Crowdfunding since 2010

Picture dictionary and app - helping refugees communicate

ICOON for refugees helps refugees communicate. A simple book with 1,000 symbols and photos can overcome any language barrier. It uses pictures when words fail. We would like to make communication easier when refugees and helpers meet and provide as many free books as possible to helpers and helping organisations. For every euro you donate we will print one book and make the free android app available for download.
Funding period
10/19/15 - 11/20/15
Website & Social Media
Minimum amount (Start level): €
10,000 €
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What is this project all about?

The ICOON Initiative
Our vision at a glance

ICOON for refugees is a free picture dictionary and android app. It is being created in cooperation with aid organisations, like the German Red Cross. Both the book and the app are designed especially for the needs of refugees and help them make themselves understood quickly in every possible situation. Each euro donated allows us to print one book.


  • Refugees come from many different parts of the world and have very different language skills. Some speak English, some speak only their native language, some can neither read nor write, and some do not speak at all due to illness or past trauma.
  • There are not enough interpreters at the borders, camps and shelters. Communication between refugees and helpers, but also among the refugees themselves, is extremely difficult, yet it is essential if the situation is to improve.
  • In recent weeks, we have received an increasing number of enquiries every day from aid organisations, asking if they, in their (communication) crisis, may distribute our ICOON book, which was originally designed for tourists in 2007, to refugees for free. We were able to provide a number of free copies, but cannot absorb the cost of printing the large number of books that is now so urgently required.
  • The book must still be adapted to the needs of refugees to include symbols specific to their special situation.
  • The production of the original ICOON book is too expensive and too complex.
  • Many refugees have android phones they use to communicate with their families while on the move. Unfortunately, an android app for ICOON for refugees does not yet exist.


  • ICOON for refugees is a picture dictionary and app designed especially for the needs of refugees in cooperation with aid organisations.
  • It contains concise symbols and photos as well as useful phrases in the most important languages. The book is divided into intuitive categories such as clothing, hygiene, health, food, and transportation that help refugees find the right description for their problem quickly so all they have to do is point at a picture to make themselves understood.
  • This can provide much needed help in the current crisis.
  • Printing is simple, binding is basic; this allows us to maintain production costs of 1 euro per book.
  • The free android app is an extremely useful tool on almost any smartphone.
  • People need not only food and shelter but also a means to communicate with each other. And what better way is there to bridge communication barriers than with the oldest and most universal language in the world: pictures!

One of a Kind

  • The pocketsize book is light and compact and is extremely handy in any situation.
  • To help those who are still on the move, an android app will be developed in addition to the book.
  • We need your help now! We have already published an A4 flyer containing 300 of the most important symbols and maps. The symbols were chosen by designer and author Gosia Warrink, along with the German Red Cross and a handful of committed refugee helpers. The flyer is print-ready and can be distributed and copied for humanitarian purposes on the basis of a Creative Commons license cc by nd. It can be downloaded from the publishers website at and the ICOON Facebook page

What is the project goal and who is the project for?

  • Our vision is to empower the refugees that are on the move to find what they need and get a clearer picture of their situation by offering them a useful communication tool.
  • The book also helps aid organisations and volunteers. They are doing an amazing job at the crisis centres. For them, ICOON for refugees is a compact tool that helps them communicate clearly and provide the right assistance.
  • It is also useful for other community initiatives. Because wherever refugees and locals meet, ICOON for refugees can help people communicate.
  • As soon as the first books have been printed we will distribute them to the Red Cross and other aid organizations and volunteers throughout Germany and Europe.
  • Our book and the app appeal to the need to „understand“ each other, thus helping refugees build communication bridges to the people and culture of the host countries. So our project also paves the way to learning the language of the country in which the refugees find themselves.
  • Our ultimate goal is to contribute to better integration of those on the move. And integration begins with language.

Why would you support this project?

  • The books provide quick and immediate assistance where it is needed most.
  • Language and communication are fundamental needs. Language is as vital as food on your plate or a roof over your head. We all depend on language. Without it, we cannot understand or be understood. And without the ability to communicate, refugees remain strangers, isolated and segregated. If communication and integration are important to you, then please support our project.
  • We have no time to waste waiting for politics to make the right decisions. It’s the little things that make a big difference, and we have the power to shape our society and foster integration.
  • We could find ourselves in a similar situation someday. How would we like to be treated then? We must treat people in need from a culture other than our own with the same kindness, respect and support we would like to receive if we were in their situation.

How will we use the money if the project is successfully funded?

One euro for one book – Each euro finances the production costs of one ICOON for refugees book and the android app.

Your donations will be used to pay for:

  • Printing costs
  • Shipping
  • Packaging
  • Programming of android app
  • Fees and charges
  • Administration

We want to attract supporters from industry, politics and society who are willing and able to provide longer term financial support to our ICOON for refugees initiative so that we may make it freely available to as many people as possible as long as possible.

Who are the people behind the project?

A small international team headed by Gosia Warrink, author and designer of the ICOON picture dictionary. Gosia is designer and linguist, Katja Koeberlin is designer, Monika Pfau is art historian and was a refugee herself. In addition to our work with art and design, we are actively involved in refugee aid and know first hand just how important language is for successful integration. We believe that „Design is not only beautiful, it also has the power to move and change the world. We sincerely hope that we have infected you with our optimism and hope ☺.“

ICOON for refugees team


Unser Partner für Übersetzungen

text&form is a top global language service provider based in Berlin. Founded in 1996, text&form has grown organically into various innovative areas of the industry and remains at the forefront of language technology.

DRK-Kreisverband Offenbach e.V.

"The ICOON book and the "First Communication" leaflet were a big help to us and the refugees, especially when an interpreter was not available."
A. Dümpelmann
Deputy Emergency Services Manager

Learning German for refugees

The digital language learning opportunities offered by the Goethe-Institut: self-learning courses, speaking exercises, videos, interactive vocabulary trainer and information on how to deal with authorities in everyday life and find a job.

ICOON for refugees

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