The Development of New Symbols at Tobii Dynavox

“The Development of New Symbols at Tobii Dynavox” by Rob Cantine (Tobii Dynavox Graphic Arts Manager) and Mary Long (CENMAC Deputy Team Leader)

For more than 30 years, Tobii Dynavox Picture Communication Symbols® (PCS) have been used by millions of students and adults to understand and structure the world around them, communicate their thoughts, and learn to read and write. Symbol-based visual supports have been proven to support people to succeed in their educational settings, and in life in general.

For Communication Works this year, CENMAC wanted to create a symbol that represented the key theme of the event ‘Get Seen’. The developers at Tobii Dynavox were immediately on board with their assistance in creating the new symbol for ‘Get Seen’. CENMAC spoke to the symbol illustrators to find out more about this and how new symbols are designed.

CENMAC: How did you come up with the idea for the new symbols representing our key idea for Communication Works ‘Get Seen’?

TD: Our starting point was the description of what the theme “Get Seen” meant for the conference itself. Taking that into account we developed symbols that made the user and communication method the focus of the symbol. To get seen is to make your presence and your communication visible, understood and successful.

CENMAC: What is the process when designing a new symbol? How long does it take?

TD: The process of designing a new symbol and the time it takes depends somewhat on the symbol itself. Once a specific symbol is requested, the first decision is how to represent that item. If it is a concrete thing (ex. “ball”) or action (ex. “run”) it’s fairly straightforward and it takes approximately 20 minutes to create. If the symbol is more conceptual (ex. “could”) or from a culture the artist is not familiar with (ex “Sami” the indigenous Scandinavian culture), there is a certain amount of research and brainstorming with other members of the team. This may add hours to the creation time.

CENMAC: What are the key features that make a good symbol?

TD: Simple, engaging and understandable. When a symbol catches the eye, has elements that are easy to see and is immediately comprehensible, that is the most successful type of symbol.

CENMAC: How are you anticipating that people will use the ‘Get Seen’ symbol?

TD: As with all of our symbols, I hope that people use the “Get Seen” symbol in whatever way is most meaningful and useful for them. Every individual’s view of the world and method of communication is unique and PCS is there to support them, possibly in ways that the symbol team didn’t anticipate when we were creating the symbol. If a symbol we’ve provided streamlines communication in any way, we’ve done our job.

CENMAC: Can you tell us more about other new symbols that you have recently released?

TD: For the past year, our symbol releases have focused on updating and refreshing the look of PCS and on inclusion and diversity. If you are familiar with PCS Classic and PCS ThinLine when you look at our new symbols you will see that they have taken elements from both of those styles to provide a brighter, more engaging look to our symbols. In addition, we have expanded our symbols to include many more representations of people. This is an ongoing process and we intend to continue to reflect the communities who use our symbols.

Many thanks to Rob Cantine (Graphic Arts Manager, 24 years at Tobii Dynavox) who leads the team and develop the PCS libraries. He also organises and maintains the symbol libraries.


Here are the rest of the team who work collaboratively to develop the style and look of the symbols and are all involved in drawing them:


Pam Curry (Senior Graphic Artist, 14 years at Tobii Dynavox)


Liz Shelly (Graphic Artist, 10 years at Tobii Dynavox)


Mike Miller (Graphic Artist, 10 years at Tobii Dynavox)



Tobii Dynavox will be exhibiting at Communication Works and will be happy to share more information and examples of the PCS symbols and software they are included in that support communication and learning.

Don’t forget you can share your CENMAC experiences for our CENMAC family to enjoy.