Thursday, July 24, 2008

Architects and signs

Sign designers sometimes complain that architects don't like signs cluttering up their beautiful buildings. As Edo Smitshuijzen reports in his recent book, Signage Design Manual, “They perceive signage as an assault on the aesthetics of their creation and as an insult to the self-evidence of their spatial design. A lot of them carry an almost sacred but entirely unfounded belief in the functionality of their ‘wordless’ buildings”.

Perhaps this is taking it a bit far, so, as preparation for a short article I'm writing on this, I thought I would see what coverage sign design and wayfinding gets in the RIBA bookshop.

There was one book on signs - Smitshuijzen's. And I can confirm that there was indeed a sign outside the building... just.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

User ballistics

'User ballistics' is a term I sometimes find myself using to describe the movement of people around environments. It's important for the placement of signs, and suggests that, as well as a logical analysis of decision points and sight lines, you need to take account of users' initial trajectory, speed and momentum.

David Lewis and I came up with the term about ten years ago, when researching and advising on the placement of flight information displays in Gatwick Airport. Observing people entering the airport concourse from the train station, we found they came through in bursts (all having arrived on the same train) and were impelled into the room by the momentum of the crowd. Often they progressed 20 or 30 metres into the concourse before they had a chance to stop and look around. At this point they had missed the flight information screens, which were placed to be visible if you looked to the left just a few metres from the door.

As well as the push effect of the crowd, we also found distant features to have magnetic force. At this same point, a very large flight information wall was visible, but not legible. People would walk towards it, but stop at a certain point when the word 'Arrivals' became visible. Those wanting Departures would then turn and look for another direction.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Designors (a recycled post)

Many years ago when I edited Information Design Journal, I included a column of short thoughts that I called Sorts (a typographers' in-word meaning a piece of printing type, particularly an obscure symbol or character). Tidying old papers, I came across one of these columns, and it occurred to me that this blog is just a continuation of that old series. So I thought I would recycle something from 1986:

"Graphic design has become big business, but a recent ad for a personal computer graph plotter indicates that graphic designers might have something of an image problem: it promises 'a complete studio at your fingertips - with no delays, no tantrums, no egos'. Now in a slick public relations move the Society of Industrial Artists and Designers is to drop the 'artists' bit, with its connotations of temperament and other-worldliness. I understand that it has voted to change its name to the Chartered Society of Designers, redolent of chartered accountants, surveyors and so on...

They might like to go further and consider the use of the '-or' suffix, whose prestigious associations were noted some time ago by the linguist Dwight Bolinger*. 'This is evidenced in the -or of expeditor (adopted after much discussion by the members of this profession), which has appeared also in advisor, publicitor, realtor and weldor'. The only one still to appear in my dictionary is 'realtor', which turns out to be a trade mark of the National Association of Realtors...

Bolinger himself managed to achieve distinction as a linguist without changing his own name to Bolingor. Any votes for designor? graphicor?"

*Bolinger DL (1946) 'Visual morphemes', Language, 22:333-340.

Petitions for all occasions

I have to confess I had not heard of the Type Museum, until I received news of a petition to stop its collection being dispersed. Judging by its website, it looks really good, although I believe it may already have closed. You can sign the petition at

Having signed the petition, I explored this site for more causes I could lend my esteemed name to. It contains hundreds of petitions to the Prime Minister and it's comedy gold.

Only three people have so far signed the petition to 'use a lie detector on retiring prime ministers'. Pity. Whereas 293 have urged Gordon to 'Prohibit the use of the names North and South Humberside'.

I'm neutral on that one. But there are quite a few requests that focus on clearer information. Unfortunately they have only been spotted by a few people. For example:

'Make it Law, that mobile phone companies inform contract customers of their balance' (3 people).
'Make all references to digital tv to state that only a freeview box is required not a new TV' (3 people).
'Urge companies to stop discriminating against people without internet access when charging for paper billing' (6 people).
'Stop HM Revenue & Customs wasting paper' (7 people).
'Investigate mobile phone operators underhand practices' (8 people).

In the absence of a comment facility, some people have taken to using the signature field of the online form to give their reaction to the petition. Personally I support the petition to 'Make all tv companies to turn volume down when there is an advert break', but it has evidently been signed by someone called 'do you really want the PM dealing with this? what a nation of bone-idle idiots. Get a grip people.'

There's me told then.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Should there be a wee comma there?

Andrew Belsey (he's my other reader) shares some quotes he's recently noted:

"Elsa Wilkins, age 6, of Annan, writing about "My Perfect Weekend" (Guardian Guide, 7 April 2007), said: "Then I go up, have a wee lie down and then jump on the bed (that gets mum up)". On first reading this I thought there should be a comma after "wee"!

"A recent magazine advertisement says "The Chrysler 300C, America's most awarded car" which prompts me to ask how many people has it been awarded to.

"I recently found this on a bookshop's website: "Store Description: Small country style internet business, all-ways ready to help a client, we deal in only quality book's, old and new". Would you buy a second-hand book from this shop?"

Well, I know I wouldn't buy vegetables from a greengrocer who wrote "bananas" not "banana's". It's all about context.