Gallery 28 Feb

Signs, Signs, Everywhere a Sign

A few years back, I attended an in-house training about designing better pedestrian environments. While I’m sure that I learned a lot about rules, regulations, safety and pedestrian design, one thing that really stuck with me all of these years later is something the instructor said towards the end of the day: “if you have to post signs – you’re doing it WRONG!”

Now I know he didn’t mean we should live in a world without signs, but his point was that the design should be intuitive enough that you do not need to excessively sign. If you have to sign your design, particularly with multiple signs, you have failed; it’s just not going to work!

He was right.

To this day, when I see too many signs posted, I reactively think: OK, what’s wrong with this picture? Why isn’t this design working?

Don’t get me wrong, there are signs that most certainly serve a purpose; stop signs for example. (See also: for more examples of nationally accepted traffic control signage).

But then there is sign abuse.

This morning, I was preparing my oatmeal, standing in front of our break-room microwave and I was reminded of sign abuse. So yeah, totally unrelated to transportation design, but related to the “if you have to post signs – you’re doing it wrong” mantra.

It really made me think.

If it’s not poor design alone, why do we feel inclined to sign every aspect of our lives? Isn’t enough to simply have signs that protect our health, safety and welfare?

Why is it that we also feel the need to impose additional signage regarding our own personal preferences or more generally our pet peeves about each other?

Why do we want to impose more rules on ourselves even if we don’t have to? How exactly does this satisfy us?

Do we really think if we post these signs that people will actually follow the instruction?

Is it in our human nature to want to ignore signs that tell us what to do?   

If we designed a better world, would we still need or want signs?


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