About

This blogs chronicles the abuse of the Swiss flag in place of proper medical signage. To remind you, this is the flag of Switzerland:

480px-Flag_of_Switzerland_(Pantone).svg

This is the Red Cross flag that is often abused to signify something medical:

Flag_of_the_Red_Cross.svg

So why are the Swiss flag and the Red Cross similar? Because the founder of the Red Cross, Henri Dunant, was Swiss and thought that an inversion of his (neutral) home country’s flag would be a good symbol to use for a humanitarian organization. Later the Red Cross symbol was used to label medical personnel, vehicles and buildings during battles.

Because the cross shape was associated with Christianity and this didn’t make everyone happy, the Red Crescent in the spirit of Islam was designed, as well as the Red Shield of David for the Israeli branch of the organization. This all gave rise to no end of controversy, so now we have a fourth symbol (the Red Lion with Sun, for Iran) and a fifth one (the Red Crystal, which is neutral). Hurray for symbol explosion! Man, this stuff has its own Wikipedia article.

These are all protection symbols for use during wartime. None of them should be used on medpacks in games or on non-military ambulances during peacetime. The Red Cross and Red Crescent hates it when this symbol is abused like that. On ambulances, for example, you should instead put the Star of Life:

240px-Star_of_life2.svg.png

Since I am Swiss, I have to chuckle every time someone puts a Swiss flag somewhere and thinks it represents something medical, so in this blog I try to chronicle this manifestation of ignorance (or unhealthy enjoyment of the color red).

Putting your Swiss cross in a circle won’t make it any less Swiss or any more medical, either. Look at some traditional Swiss baked goods:

mappenzeller-biberli

So is this biberli a medical item now? The hazelnut filling might be healthy if it didn’t contain so much sugar, but no, the Swiss cross stands for Switzerland. There is even a law in Switzerland that states that you can’t put the Swiss cross on products that aren’t predominantly Swiss.

Of course that doesn’t apply to graphics artists and designers putting Swiss crosses on things that aren’t physical products, so in games and movies this will go unpunished. And it doesn’t apply outside Switzerland anyhow. If you’ve ever misplaced a Swiss flag but don’t collide with Swiss law for geographical reasons, consider yourself lucky, punk! The Swiss cops would hunt you down and talk to you with irrational levels of politeness, then apologize for having to deliver a court order.

Did you see a misplaced Swiss flag?

Let me know and I’ll include it here.

7 thoughts on “About

  1. Sorry but the combination of red and white to signify something medical is just so deeply ingrained in peoples minds and other symbols and colors just can’t compare.
    Since the red cross on white isn’t allowed to be used, the swiss flag is the best looking alternative.

    I’m saying this as a designer. Your flag is just too perfect as a medical symbol and more recognized as such than as your actual flag.
    I can see how it looks ridiculous to a Swiss, because to you, this is your national symbol.
    But it’s not how rest of the world and especially gamers see it, who’s been fed this symbol in a medical context for ages. Up to a point where they might mix up a Swiss embassy with a Hospital.

    I like the alternatives provided here though.
    The problem I have as a designer, is that none of them use red.

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  2. When you use a red circle with a white cross it’s no longer a Swiss flag though.
    If you want to call it a “modified Swiss flag” then it might as well be a “modified Japanese flag”.
    But that’s what happens when you have flags with simple geometric shapes.

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  3. Fair enough, but did you ask yourself why people associate red and white with medicine? The Red Cross emblem is based on an inversion of the Swiss flag, and the name “Red Cross” should make it pretty obvious that you’re supposed to make the *cross* part red, not the background πŸ™‚

    I get that non-Swiss don’t find it funny, but picture a world in which games and TV series use your own country’s flag to indicate health and medicine. Bit weird, no?

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  4. Yeah I’ve been reading up a bit and came across that piece of historical knowledge, it’s interesting.
    You should consider expanding this about section with things like that.

    Also I found out the Swiss Airforce use a red roundel with a white cross..
    Seeing it on a plane, my brain has a hard time deciding between Swiss Airforce and Medic Plane.. The latter being a ridiculous idea but hey, that’s what happens when video games raise you..

    And I think a lot of people who find their way to this site will be designers of some kind who have conflicting thoughts about using the Swiss flag or the Red Cross and wants alternatives…

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    1. Thanks for the suggestion, I’ve added a little history blurb and a link to Wikipedia. I first thought this is a very small and very specific issue, but what you wrote about the planes made me think. If it’s true that one person got this impression from video games, maybe a lot more people have. So the Red Cross is perhaps right when it complains that its symbol is now confusing people because it’s used wrong in video games (and even TV series, I have a few screenshots from Archer and Fargo for example).

      The people who made Party Hard almost got it right on their ambulance, so it seems there are some designers who are discerning with their medical symbols. The only thing they got wrong is to put a red cross on top of the car. That pisses off the Red Cross but doesn’t make the Swiss chuckle.

      I’ll try to dig up some more official alternative medical symbols that I could put on the About page in case more designers stumble over it πŸ™‚ But I think the white cross on green, which is the very official first aid kit one, should be enough for medpack use.

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  5. If you want a good example look at the Medic from Team Fortress 2.

    As for the iso-standard first aid logo.
    I think designers will keep preferring a red logo.
    The association of red and health is extremely strong.
    Red also stands out as a warning color and together with white it has great contrast.

    I think you’ll see more Swiss flags in the future and a lot of them won’t be because of ignorance, not sure if that makes it better or way worse.. ?

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    1. Of course all that is true, but it doesn’t help with the fact that even if designers would get the colors right, it would just be an abuse of a protection symbol for military use instead of misuse of a national flag or symbol. The red in the Swiss flag does come from the Blutfahne (blood banner) so I understand how people would associate *that* with something health-related, but then again the Albanian flag also has a lot of red and isn’t used that way πŸ™‚ Oh well, maybe I’ll replace “ignorance” with something more fitting.

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