For my second week of Visual Language, we were assigned to look around New York for examples of good and bad signage.
First, and example of some really well-done signage. This call box is probably 30-40 years old, but the instructional design very much holds up. The use of large text and iconography is clear, and the instructions are concise. Additionally, there is an excellent hierarchy of information. The complete instructions are printed out at the bottom for a casual viewer who has time to leisurely read. However, someone who is in a hurry can figure out what to do first without reading anything, at which point they receive a reminder of the next step. This philosophy—making sure that viewers get the information they need when they need it and not before—is key to good signage.
Below, were a few examples of signage I found that were poorly-designed, misplaced, unclear, or some combination of the above. As it turned out, all of my examples involved arrows. I think arrows are so brilliantly simple, but so easy to completely mess up when one’s not paying attention. And when that happens it (apparently) bothers me.
For example, the ATM is not down there. The arrow immediately misdirects attention and should have been physically cut off the sign. To be fair, I think this reflects poorly not on the store but on the ATM company, who for some reason decided that this sign would be best hung directly above the ATM. In most cases (such as this one), I can’t imagine that placement would be ideal. And, besides, a bright red “ATM Machine” sign without an arrow would convey the same message hung above the ATM, and would ultimately be more flexible.
More strange arrow choices. To start with, which door? The one the arrow’s pointing to? That’s obviously not the case. It must be the other one, then. However, that door’s opening is protected by the wall between the buildings, so it’s unlikely to catch anyone by surprise. Indeed, it’s impossible to both read this sign and be in the path of the door. And again, the arrow: does the door somehow open past the arrow? And why is a straight arrow used to illustrate a curved path?
And finally, it seems like a terrible idea to use the word “this” and an arrow in such close proximity if they don’t refer to the same thing. It’s a simple sign, but the strange layout of content makes it much more confusing than necessary. (And, given that it’s probably a mass-produced sign, here in the doorway of an NYU building, there’s no reason it wasn’t better designed.)
Here is the same sign with my revisions. Bold type with plenty of negative space pulls the eye toward the main message. The secondary message about the air intake is placed at the top of the sign (which makes sense spatially), but in a less visible manner. In addition, I removed the “above”, because the arrow communicates that unambiguously.