Redundant signs dilute the message

On the ferry today The Ranger was having his usual rant about counterproductive safety signs (the last one was on the ferry too, remember?) when a fantastic specimen drove into view:

The Lord's Taverners minibus

Do you see the problem? It’s more redundant signage. These unnecessary signs, wherever they are found, actually make things worse by diverting attention from signs that really are important and worth reading. Look more closely:

The Lord's Taverners minibus

Now, it’s hardly fair to criticise such a worthy bus – but really, if the occupants are not aware of the methodology for opening the door, it’s a bit worrying. Maybe there is some new statutory requirement for such signs, although that would be news to this Ranger. If so, there are a lot of happy sign-makers who are going to have a lot of work on. The Ranger went around the other side and was even more concerned to see that the driver’s side was similarly adorned. Let’s hope the drivers were not in need of such instruction. The Ranger did notice that the front of the bus did not bear a sign saying ‘Do not lie down in front of this vehicle whilst it is in motion‘. He was just about to try this when his companions manhandled him away to the safety of the upper lounges, where more signs were provided to calm his fevered brain…

Simple signs: The Ranger rants on a ferry

A topic which has been on The Ranger’s mind at work recently is signage, and how best to erect notices to indicate country parks, nature reserves and other sites. Before you even erect it, a sign needs to have a clear purpose and a prospect of success in communicating its message. There are at least two important priorities for most signs at park entrances – firstly, to get over the message that this is a special place, with a name, in which you can expect and do certain things; and secondly, that it is run by some organisation, which not only pays for the signs but probably has its own set of corporate design standards. Whilst achieving these two objectives it is important not to spoil the historic landscape and natural beauty which the visitors may have come to admire. A tricky set of priorities to balance out. The basic problem is how to communicate what is potentially a lot of information, some of it conflicting. The answer, in short, is to keep it simple, stupid. But that’s harder than it might seem. Here’s a case study to show what happens when you don’t achieve that simplicity of signage. On a recent trip to the mainland The Ranger was sat on the ferry pondering signs when he was struck by the barrage of signage on a wall in the passenger lounge. It was a dull crossing so he was feeling pedantic – be warned. Here is an overview:

Signage on the Wightlink ferry

Don’t worry, more detail follows. Just check out the whole display. The Ranger counts nine different signs (there are two really tiny ones under the alarms), one of which is an advertisement, partly obscured by the bin. What is the main message you read from this confusing mish-mash? That’s right: “Our coffee will make you fart“. The rest is pretty much lost. But what were they trying to say? Let’s look further:

Signage on the Wightlink ferry

Yes, there’s quite a lot there that could be analysed, but concentrate on what might perhaps be the most important safety message – the lifejacket instructions. Apart from being almost the smallest text there, it’s fairly clear, but it ought to be pointed out that this sign includes the words ‘this is a muster station’. Actually, the on-board recorded safety announcements which every voyage is cursed by make it perfectly clear where the muster stations are – and they are not here. So here’s one important lesson: get your facts right, and make sure all signs are consistent. The next issue concerns the function of the door to the right of the signs. What’s behind it? Two signs say it is a ‘Nursing mothers room‘ or ‘Nursing mothers facilities‘, but it also might be ‘Disabled Persons Toilet‘, ‘Gentlemens Toilet‘, or possibly even ‘Bar & Snacks‘. There are just too many signs here to be sure. What’s more, except for the more-or-less redundant disabled logo all of these signs would be fairly incomprehensible to anyone who couldn’t read English. Luckily there is a sign on the door itself:

Signage on the Wightlink ferry

Hmm… that really doesn’t clarify matters much. Is it a bomb-disposal facility? A laptop-charging station? A chapel of rest? Probably something to do with Pokemon. Oh, enough. Surely, any more is just too much. There are plenty of excellent examples of signs which communicate these messages much more simply. This is the best lesson to learn from this example: less signage is more. So, will these lessons be drawn out to inform decisions about country park signage? The Ranger will keep you informed in future posts: meanwhile, if you have any examples good or bad, feel free to suggest them below.