USDA Forest Service

Pacific Southwest Research Station
Pacific Southwest
Research Station

800 Buchanan Street
Albany, CA 94710-0011
(510) 883-8830
United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service. USDA logo which links to the department's national site. Forest Service logo which links to the agency's national site.

Research Topics

Recreation: Communication

International Symbols in Southern California

The goal of this research was to evaluate the comprehension of International Symbols (graphical symbols depicting ideas without words) used on the Angeles and San Bernardino National Forests in southern California. Data were collected from 262 recreationists at day-use sites during summer 2002. The survey instruments were available in English and Spanish. International Symbols selected included those from the usual available sources as well as seven Forest-produced symbols.

Each unique response for the symbols was coded for level of correctness by two independent coders using the International Standards Organization tool adapted for this study. Any disagreement in coding was resolved by a third independent coder.

The typical visitor was male, 37 years old with 12 years of education, and Hispanic. Most visitors were recreating with family and/or friends and most were on repeat visits to these sites. Typical activities were picnicking, relaxing, hiking and camping.

Only 11 of the 20 symbols in the study were considered well-understood, that is, there was a high percentage of respondents who correctly comprehended them. At least two-thirds of respondents were able to name the activity/facility to which the symbol was referring [these were symbols for Fishing, Swimming, Restrooms, Horse Trail, No Fireworks, Picnic Area, No Trucks, Hiking Trail, Camp (tent), Drown Campfires, and Hikers]. These need no further management action.

International sign: Fishing International sign: Swimming
Fishing Swimming

Of the remaining nine symbols, three were moderately understood, and six were misunderstood. The three moderately understood symbols probably need modification to clarify the intended message--perhaps these should only be used if there is accompanying text (these were Off-road Vehicle Trail, Information, and Automobiles Permitted). The usual rule is to provide textual messages for three years when putting out these symbols. It may be necessary to use textual messages for five years with these three symbols.

The six misunderstood symbols (these symbols were No Alcohol, No Charcoal Grills, Amphitheater, Carry Water Back to the Site, Fish Hatchery and Conserve Water) require major modification or discontinued use. Most of the respondents did not understand the intended message of these six symbols.

International sign: Amphitheater International sign: Fish Hatchery
Amphitheater Fish Hatchery
Publications and Products related to this subject:

Chavez, D.J.; Knap, N.E.; McCollum, D.G. 2004. Assessing national forest visitors' comprehension of international symbols for communicating outdoor recreation messages. Journal of Park and Recreation Administration 22, 3, 1-21.

Chavez, D.J.; McCollum, D.G.; Knap, N.E. 2003. International symbols report 2002: The San Bernardino and Angeles National Forests. Unpublished report. Riverside, CA: Pacific Southwest Research Station, Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture. 41 p.

Research conducted by:
Last Modified: Aug 29, 2016 11:03:56 AM