Confusing signs

On our recent trip we were  amused by this road sign exhorting us to drive as quickly as we could.

You sometimes wonder who on earth writes these signs and whether or not anyone actually reads them before they go on display. In this instance I think that most people would work out what the real message was, but sometimes poor signs can have disastrous consequences.

This infographic from the Guardian shows that many people in Britain are more than a little confused about what the various road safety signs actually mean, and I think this would be the case in most countries.

Confusion corner

What makes a good sign?

As with most things, typography is important. The font used in all British road signs was developed specifically for that purpose and is designed to be legible at a distance. Not only does the type have to be very clear (no serifs or curly bits required thank you), but the spacing between the letters needs to be exactly right. Adjusting the spacing between the letters is called kerning.

Diagrams need to be as unambiguous as possible. If you are designing a sign or instructions of any kind you need to make sure that you test them out on as many people as possible to make sure that they are not misinterpreted. In your focus group you should include older and younger people and people from as wide a range of cultural backgrounds as possible.

Your sign needs to contain the minimum amount of information required to make it meaningful and the colours need to be chosen to allow for conditions such as colour-blindness.

I know that not all of you spend your days designing signage, but the same rules apply if you are making instructions for how to get to your house, or how to use the photocopying machine at work. These are not necessarily matters of life and death but people appreciate clarity and will be grateful if you make the effort.

Here is my favourite example of an hilarious sign…

Do not read

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2 thoughts on “Confusing signs

  1. Did you mean to show the sign you saw, saying drive quickly?
    Is is correct to say “an” hilarious rather than “a”?
    Just checking.

    1. Hello there Nola
      Apparently the photo of the sign only shows on the actual blog and not in the message that subscribers get which is annoying. I didn’t know that! I am planning to fix it but have been busy cooking dinner.
      Re ‘an hilarious’ what an interesting question. Yes, I believe that you should ignore the ‘h’ and assume that the word starts with a vowel, but I might write a proper article on this . Thanks for asking!

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