There are good signs and there are bad signs

One of my favorite topics: good signage

signA well-designed item helps the user. It doesn’t matter whether that design is a brochure, a coffeepot or a road sign. If it’s designed properly it doesn’t thwart the user.

Whenever I am abroad the first thing I notice are the signs.

  • The signs on the airport if I come by plane
  • The directions on the terminal if I am traveling by bus
  • The road signs if I drive a car

In my opinion too many designers would rather get a compliment about the appearance of their work than about the usability.

Examples to clarify my point, close by home

signsDecide in a split second. Will you go right or left for ‘Beekhoek’?

For years this sign has been standing just outside my village giving directions to restaurants and campgrounds. It always annoyed me.
Imagine this situation:
You are on your way to a seminar in a place unknown to you. There has been a traffic jam so you are running late. The sign is at the end of the off ramp. And while cars behind you are honking their horn out of impatience you have to decide in a split second whether to go right or left.
I think you will go right, no matter which one of the four possibilities you need.

signage
There are better ways to point in the right direction. One is to put the arrow to the left on the left part of the sign.

more signs
Even better is to make two groups.

More examples to clarify my point, abroad

camping

Both signs I found in France. Which one is best?

sign in france

My personal heroes, One American, one Dutch

Donald Norman

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Twenty some years ago I read “The psychology of everyday things” by Donald Norman. And reread it, and reread it. Nowadays it’s lying on my bed stand so I can leaf through it. It is one of the best books I have ever read. Ever.

The book has a chapter about taps. Usually I can figure out quite easy how a tap works, but during a holiday, driving through France, several of the parking lots had taps I just couldn’t fathom. I thought it was hilarious because it was one of those holidays that I was reading the book for the umpteenth time.

Oh, and by the way, all taps had to be handled with a foot pedal. Can you imagine?

taps

Paul Mijksenaar

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Another great book on the subject is “Visual Function” by Paul Mijksenaar. He is the designer of the signage at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam and JFK Airport in New York.
This book looks slightly more attractive than Norman’s because it’s more recent and has color images.
But you might have guessed that for me this isn’t relevant, because the content is more important than the way it looks.

I once was able to invite Paul Mijksenaar for a talk at my yearly “Clients Cuddling Day”. He was amazing. He can go on and on about his ideas on signs in such a funny way that everyone thought they were attending a comedy night. And the biggest accomplishment of that talk was that almost every client said to me later they just couldn’t look anymore at things without wondering what the designer had been thinking.

signage by mijksenaar

A design example from ordinary life

Ever since I put hubbies car against a wall in an indoor parking, causing some big scratches, I hate garages. They’re too narrow, you can’t take the turns without damaging the car, there are always cars parked across the lines.
So this car park in Monchengladbach, Germany, was a present to me. The lines from the floor are extended on the wall. How simple life can be!
This is the principles from Norman and Mijksenaar in full practice. 🙂

signs made easy

Do you think graphic designers can make your life more easy?

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