In praise of stick men

Foto de Larry

Foto de Larry (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Lots of people think that they aren’t creative. I used to think this myself, despite having worked in a number of jobs that require some degree of creativity, including working as a film editor, writer and teacher. Nevertheless it took me quite a long while to realise that when I said I wasn’t creative, I really meant that I couldn’t draw.

Whilst I would love to be able to draw, I have come to understand that if you are trying to explain something complex, stick men are not only perfectly adequate, they are actually preferable. Stick men, which even I can draw reasonably well, can convey information very clearly because they don’t come with the visual distractions that accompany a photo or a drawing of a real person. When we look at photos our brains are distracted by the extra information that we are asked to process. How old is that woman, what colour are her eyes, is she happy or sad, does she look like someone I know? These are only a few of the thoughts and ideas that flow through minds in the first few milliseconds when we see an image. The same goes for an illustration, especially if it’s well executed and life-like.

Not only do we get the message really quickly from a stick man (or a stick woman for that matter), a stick man can also convey movement (for example running) with little of no effort on our part.

So don’t fret if you can’t draw. You only need the most basic skills to depict relationships, instructions and behaviours. Go ahead and practice your stick men. Your audience will understand that you are merely illustrating a concept, and not trying to be an artist. And if you figure out a way to draw a stick woman (without be rude), let me know.

The ambiguity of signs

Quick, where is the loo?Last week I had dinner at the RSL club with my 90 year old father-in-law and during the meal he asked what the green ‘running man’ sign meant. I said it was an exit sign and asked him what he thought it meant. He replied that he thought it might be a sign indicating that there was a toilet nearby. When I asked why the man was running, he said “he might be in a hurry to get to the toilet”. This exchange was followed by a lively discussion on whether signs are actually as clear as we assume them to be. Does the green running man really indicate that there’s an exit, or is he just a man in a hurry?

 I noticed that the word EXIT was on another sign, some distance away from the running man, however there was nothing to indicate that there was any relationship between them. In other words, proximity really does matter. If words and pictures are a long way apart we assume that they are not related concepts. Of course, the addition of the word EXIT on or near the sign doesn’t help people who can’t read very well or don’t speak English.

 According to Wikipedia (always a reliable source!), the ‘running man’ pictogram was designed by Yukio Ota in 1982 and is used in Japan, South Korea, China, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, the UK and Norway. So the green running man is very widely used across a range of cultures, but is it clear?

 Can you think of a better way to indicate an exit using only visuals?