King of the Signs

November 3, 2011
Tower of London

"Castle. That way."

Found … outside the Tower of London (England). Pointing to … the Tower of London (England).

It’s elegant. It’s helpful. It’s honest. It’s the greatest sign ever made.



How to Butcher a Simple Message, example 3,912

October 1, 2011

Sent from Sarah in upstate New York …

She never made it to the lagoon, if you're wondering.

This gem of a sign was found in a hotel bathroom next to stacks and stacks of towels, I’m told. A bad sign. A confusing sign. Lord knows how many towels are used improperly.

Where am I going?

September 6, 2011

At least there's an insightful news ticker down there.

A nice find on, reposted here in honor of that last great milestone of summer — Labor Day. How much do we love these airport Departure/Arrival screens? Designed to fulfill such a simple need, most of them suffer from such a simple yet stifling usability gaffe. They cycle through the flights, gates, and city info waaay too fast. They mean well. They do. But it doesn’t matter how big the screens or the font size is, most of us still need time to sort out our ABCs.  “N is after L in the alphabet, okay.  Okay..  ah-ha! New York.”  But no sooner you find your flight it’s gone isn’t it, refreshed in a column over, or two, or three TV panels away.

Slooow down, Airport Flight Departure Information screens. We’re in a hurry but we ain’t going that fast. We’re not machines like you. Not yet.

And get that anti-virus updated. It’s a sick world out there.

The Great Summer Shake Up

August 21, 2011

In fortunate parts of the world, summer often goes hand in hand with rest, travel, introspection, and micheladas. For some, summer brings a dizzying array of new experiences, connections, and insights. For others, it is a big reset. A step back towards our natural beginnings in those hot, muggy environments we all came from (whether that be the womb or the tropical climates where we evolved as a species). For many, summer is all about change.

Big change. Small change. Change.

However you slice it, the time has come for the Infinite User to change. Maybe it wasn’t the season alone. Maybe it that was that fateful weekend I watched all three installments of The Matrix (which are far better on DVR with the power of the rewind, by the way). Or that fine summer read, a good story can shake things up. Or shark week. Blame shark week.

Sign in London, England

Now *thats* a Construction sign -- banged up good.

A new era is upon us. And this weblog. One of opening in the gates and letting in the sun. Sharing faster. More insights, less delay. Posting, rampant posting. There is a time for the insightful thought piece. And these will come. But we have been catapulted into the era of the short attention span. It’s a glorious world out there, and it must be broken down. With more lessons and fewer words.

So with that, in the spirit of construction, change, progress, and summer — I’ll kick it off with a sign spotted in the bustling heart of London, England. A Construction sign. You’ll notice it actually has no words. But it does have a silhouette with a shovel. And wear and tear. A lot of it. It’s a gritty sign. A seasoned sign. One with character. One that tells a story and fulfills its purpose without using a single word. One that sends a message arguably better than its fresh-off-the-press counter-parts. There’s a lesson in there, go find it. And go to Europe too. Good food, cool buildings.

Stay tuned for more. (Much more.)

Life’s Easy in the Sunshine State

March 23, 2011

A recent trip to sunny south Florida unveiled a surprising number of simple-yet-effective designs scattered throughout the region. Maybe it’s part of an effort to cater to the high proportion of Florida residents who are elderly (a huge theme of 21st century design). Maybe it’s because many of Florida’s neighborhoods are so new and shiny, not bogged down by the old conventions and standards that other dense urban areas suffer from. Maybe the state is quietly harboring a large number of crafty designers — drawn south to the tropical climate. Whatever the reason, good work Florida. You’ve reminded us that its not always the knock-out designs that improve our world, that sometimes getting the basics right is most important of all.

Let’s start with my absolute favorite: a standing shower where the knob is actually in a logical place. Where you can turn the water on and control flow and temperature without getting wet. No more turning on the water on one side of the curtain and getting in the other side. No more awkwardly craning your naked body to dodge the water that may be too cold or too hot (It’s okay, we’ve all done that). It’s a shower that’s designed for showering. Beautiful.

Staying with the bathroom theme, this Florida bathroom had two doors, one that opens to the house and one to the outside. I scratched my head on this one for a while. Then I realized it’s Florida. It’s always nice out. There are patios and pools for entertaining. Bathrooms that may need to be accessed by guests. People in beach towels. Guests who you might not want to trek through the rest of your house. Sensible.

These parking space numbers on a coastal stretch in Palm Beach were labeled next to the car as opposed to painted under the car on the space itself.  So you could read them once parked. Smart.

“Beaches… THAT way.” I’m told, when crusing down I-95 on a sunny Saturday. Some highway signs understand their audience (as seen on other coastal freeways). Always refreshing.

Then there’s the Sun-Pass: a digital highway pass that beeps back at you when it’s been read by the toll sensors, as opposed to doing nothing at all. That’s called feedback, that’s a good thing. It’s still an ugly gray box stuck on the inside windshield, but at least it communicates. No more speeding through the toll-booth wondering whether you’ll be receiving a ticket in the mail in five to eight weeks. Hear the beep, know you’ve paid your toll, rest easy.

And of course, rocking chairs strategically placed in a waiting areas are always a win. As I’ve called out before. Works just as well as on the front porch. The ones pictured here were found in a South Beach hotel lobby.

Rock on, South Florida.

Rock. On.

“This bag is not a toy” – a poem

December 8, 2010

— This Bag is Not a Toy —

This garbage bag has a note
A warning sign of sorts
It tells of danger and reminds us well
That it’s just a bag of course

Its printed twice, down the side
Trying to play on fear
In us the manufacturers confide
that there are dangers looming here

And let me ask, what little girl or boy
that came across this plastic thing
would mistake it for a toy?
(There’s not even a built-in draw-string)

Those special few to which it might look fun
I’d guess are too young to read
So the note is likely for adults
a point I will concede

Still it seems a bit overboard
A waste of ink at best
How ‘bout simply: “Keep away from kids”
And getting rid of the rest?

Just to be clear to those reading on
I’m not against safety
Just think we should pick & choose our words
I’d think most would agree

So I say, it’s silly sign
But just to make a splash
I thought I’d write it all out in rhyme.
Okay, time to take out the trash (seriously)

[Author’s note: please excuse the highly unconventional ABCB, ABAB (x3), ABCB (x2), ABAB format]

Signs of Southern California

December 10, 2009

"Beaches it is I guess. I mean I'm already on the way there.. "

(In honor of my first sub-zero degree day in Chicago, let’s talk about somewhere warm.) You can tell a lot about a place by its government-sanctioned signage. One of the more obscure reasons I love San Diego is because of its signs, and how they always seem to communicate more than the obvious.

Plastering the freeways are signs for “8 West – Beaches.” Everywhere. Not LA, not Palm Springs, not another town or city, but Beaches. The direction of beaches… all of them (you know, cause they’re all right next to each other). It must be tough driving to work every day past a dozen signs reminding you of a place that you’d rather be besides than your office. Cruel and unusual for commuters, helpful for tourists, and all around very telling of the culture down there. Does this not seem to hint where priorities lie in this sunny corner of America?

While many cities around the world are full of subtle cues (and small signs) that label their various urban districts, San Diego likes the massive in-your-face approach. These twenty-foot tall behemoths of signs serving as gateways between their ‘hoods. They stick out. They can’t be avoided. They glow at night, even through the thickest of fog that comes off the ocean and floods the city. They make sure you always know where you are. But I’ll tell you what else…. they also communicate confidence, and a certain pride in their neighborhoods that you don’t see everywhere. Where do you think you are? You’re in NORTH PARK – that’s where!

So next time you’re traveling and see a sign that seems out of the ordinary, look harder. Read deeper.