Tag Archives: Signage

How Louis C.K. Could Help Improve Street Sign Design

The opening of last week’s season premiere of Louie offered up a hilarious scene of Louie and a fellow New Yorker trying to decipher an odd assortment of street signs to see if it was safe to park their cars. This must be a fairly common problem in bigger cities because I came across these weird signage clusters a lot back when I was trying to eek out a living as an urban planner. The picture below was taken in front of my sister’s old house in Evanston, IL (a Chicago suburb) back in the 90s. Despite all of the warnings, it was actually okay to park in this spot at the time we were there.

In any given city I suppose there are a bunch of different parking rules and each one has its own sign associated with it. Every now and then you get a situation where overlapping rules apply and the result is a bit of a jumble. It is a classic — albeit minor — case of the law of unintended consequences. There is simply nothing in a city worker’s toolkit that would allow them to provide an appropriate solution to such a complex problem.

What is needed is a more flexible approach — something that clearly outlines the rules of a given situation but can also be easily adjusted to meet slightly different circumstances.

After returning home, I put together a quick idea that involved more of a calendar-like design, with circumstances in rows and time-of-day in columns. My idea was to have a standard sign to which workers could affix a series of universal “no” stickers at the right points. The design is based primarily on the given situation (and does nothing to address the driveway warning) but I thought it was a good start.

The new sign would save taxpayer money by reducing both the number and variety of signs that needed to be made. It would also simplify the interpretation of complex situations for the average citizen and it could be easily modified by city traffic workers if parking circumstances changed. You could even use it to block off areas temporarily by adding a removable (magnetic?) marker during construction or special events.

The one big drawback that I could see for this design is that it leaves a lot of white space open for minor vandalism. Even I might be tempted to play a few games of tic-tac-toe on such a sign. Overall, though, I think it is a step in the right direction. I hope Louie would be proud.

Have a happy Fourth of July, everyone! Make sure you interpret those parking signs along the parade route carefully.

Revised Parking Sign System

Signs of Sanity

I dragged my family to the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear in Washington, D.C. yesterday and we saw a lot of great signs. Some of my favorites also managed to bring in some chart humor:

The Huffington Post appears to have the best — or at least the biggest — collection of signs from the rally. A few of my favorites:

  • This one freaked me out! Where will I live?
  • Perhaps my favorite sign of the whole rally. What a great clash of immigrant tradition with Muslim sensibilities.

One Man’s Helpful Hint is Another Man’s Interruption

A friend recently sent me this link to a discussion on the merits of obscure airport security notifications about snowglobes. Oddly enough, I experienced the snowglobe issue firsthand on a recent trip to New Mexico. The circumstances:

  • My daughter collects snowglobes
  • Snowglobes are the classic souvenir
  • Terrorists have attempted to smuggle incendiary fluids in small containers
  • The Feds only allow liquids in containers below a certain size onboard
  • Snowglobes contain an undetermined amount of liquid
  • Snowglobes are therefore banned from carry-on luggage
  • This information is provided to passengers only after the luggage check-in
  • There is no service that allows you to package and mail anything from the airport terminal
  • Nobody buying a snowglobe at a local tourist trap is going to piece all of this together beforehand
  • Terrorists and government bureaucracy now stand in the way of my daughter’s happiness

This whole situation was extremely annoying and I have to admit that a sign or some sort of notification would have helped. The trick for delivering a message like this is how (and when) to target your audience. Obviously, a sign taking up precious real estate in the terminal can be distracting and dilutes the effectiveness of more important messages. On the otherhand, there is a small subset of people who would really benefit from this information if it could be delivered at the right moment.

Interestingly, this incident did answer a question that had beeen bugging me throughout the trip: why is it so hard to find a snowglobe in Albuquerque? All I could find were items that looked like snowglobes but were partially filled with sand. It wasn’t like the area didn’t get snow — people ski there — so what was the deal? My guess is that the local tourist shops developed the sandglobes in response to the airport security issue. They were everywhere. Maybe the snowglobe warning should have been delivered at that point.