This week we will examine signage. Signage is the most basic and omnipresent examples of visual design. Consider a world without graphic design (click on hidden town).
Signs usually serve one of two functions. They either let you know where you are or let you know where to go. They also can let you know what to do (walk, park, exit) or not to do (don’t smoke, don’t turn, don’t go). For signage to be effective, messages need to be clear, readable at a glance, and adhere to certain perceptual norms. These include yellow for caution, red for stop, upper and lower case type is easier to read than all upper case and that any more than one instruction on a sign minimizes its impact. As in all forms of visual design they also should follow the 10 rules of communication design. Color and typography choices are particularly important in signage design. The slides below include some good examples of signage failures.
In signage and information systems too much information can be as misleading as too little information. Maps are an excellent example of this. There is often more detail than is necessary for navigation and the detail can confuse rather than clarify.
There are an astonishing number of bad signs that we confront every day and tremendous opportunity for improvement in way finding and signage design. I love the stop signs in Oaxaca Mexico and Spain. The action of the figure says it all.
Sequences of signs that provide spatial orientation such as in airports, hospitals, neighborhoods or other large location are called wayfinding systems. Wayfinding systems need to teach the user the rules of orientation intuitively and apply those rules rigorously and consistently through the information experience. Successful systems provide ‘mental mapping’ – allowing people to intuitively understand the rules of the wayfinding system without having the think about what those rules are. The systems usually incorporate traditional signage, maps, street furniture and landscaping.
Some excellent recent examples of successful wayfinding systems include the Walk!Philadelphia project , the largest pedestrian wayfinding system in North America which encompasses over 2,200 sign and map faces, and the Legible London project .
The Legible London project is an excellent example of wayfinding principles. The project was initiated to encourage walking in central London and to educate tourists and residents about pedestrian paths. The project was inspired by a research study which proved that many had been using the tube maps as pedestrian guides yet the Tube maps are misleading and inaccurate for this purpose. They were specifically designed to clarify subway routes and are schematic diagrams and not accurate maps.
Consider the incoherence and inconsistency of signage at Penn Station. Slate: Lost in Penn Station: Why are the signs at the nation’s busiest train hub so confusing?
Assignment: Photograph 4-5 examples of unsuccessful signage or other visual communication. Come to class prepared to present and discuss your examples and your recommendations on how to improve the signage.