This is a guest post from Sam Winer.
SIGNS. Have you ever looked at a sign and tried NOT to read it?
This might explain why we are assaulted with signage at every turn and crevice of our daily lives. Yet, it doesn’t explain the absurdity of the signs themselves, or the places we see them. Please read after me and let me explain.
I am driving back to the airport, only moments away, anticipating the cheerful Avis lady scrutinizing my rental car return, when I see one of those caution diamond shaped signs (you remember the shapes from driver’s ed, don’t you?) on the edge of the interstate warning me of imminent danger: The sign read: CAUTION: LOW FLYING AIRCRAFT. Not only do I have to be concerned about finding a gas station to refuel my temporary wheels to avoid the eight-dollar per gallon refueling surcharge, but also I now have to be concerned about low flying aircraft. If I see one of these low flying aircraft, what the hell should I do? Duck? Hide? My daily sign dose has just begun.
Since I wanted to avoid fueling up at Avis-oco, I stopped at the interstate Exxon/Mobil (I guess they just couldn’t decide on just one name), and noticed my second stupid sign for the day at the fuel pumps: DANGER: NO SMOKING. Is it really necessary to be told NOT to smoke while pumping gas? If that weren’t enough, the Sign-ers felt obligated to depict this with a pictogram of a cigarette that looked like a stick of dynamite with a big RED line diagonally cut thru the stick. The company could have used the best free digital signage software to make it even more striking. When thought out, this actually did seem more logical since most individuals who may have the propensity to puff a smoke at the gas pumps probably would have an easier time with the picture than they would with the words. These people are the reason Denny’s places pictures on their menus.
NO SHOES, NO SHIRT, NO SERVICE. Stupid sign #3, faded and hand printed on the door of the restaurant. I have yet to develop the urge of stripping off my shirt and shoes before indulging in a Grand Slam breakfast. Although I will say this urge would probably develop long before the desire to smoke while pumping gas. Needless to say, I expected pictograms on this sign too, but no cigar, only words.
I am now walking downtown. The weather is brisk and cold with the skyscrapers of the city rising up majestically to the heavens. I now stumble upon Stupid Sign #4 written on an old style traffic cone, strategically placed every 6 feet or so on the sidewalk. CAUTION – FALLING ICE. Of course, what is the first thing I do but tilt my head back and point my eyes skyward. Fully expecting a dagger shaped icicle to imbed itself between my eyes, I immediately returned my gaze ahead. It was at that precise moment that I realized that maybe I am the one who needs pictograms on the signs. Nonetheless, I couldn’t help but wonder why any of us would need a sign to warn of impending icicle danger, controlled only by the God of gravity, and which even the best serpentine sidewalk maneuvers could not avoid.
BLIND MAN CROSSING. Does a blind man really need a sign he can’t read? Of course not, and neither should the hapless driver require a reminder to avoid hitting pedestrians with white canes. After all, wouldn’t it be equally prudent to just remind those behind the wheel to avoid hitting ANY pedestrians? But, that would require yet another sign.So, here’s my plan for the sake of sign efficiencies, and to reduce the national epidemic of sign clutter. How about just 1 pictogram sign illustrating a shirtless and shoeless blind man walking downtown, avoiding falling ice, climbing into his car, driving towards the airport, avoiding low flying aircraft, and puffing nonchalantly on a lit cigarette he purchased at the gas station where his car’s gas gauge is now pegged on “Full”. Now, that would be a sign that says it all. A true sign of the times.