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.



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.

Toilet Signs!

February 19, 2009

Good design sometimes shows up where you least expect it.

Guess I won't be knocking then.

I guess I won't be knocking then.

How many public restrooms have you tried to use, found locked, and weren’t sure if it was occupied or not? Check out this signage found at a random gas station restroom somewhere in the San Fernando Valley. It’s message, simple yet so helpful: both in explaining the locking convention and eliminating any meaningless interactions with the gas station clerk. (Though I admit I have no idea what “Mobil” means – it wasn’t a mobile bathroom – maybe it was the name of the genius who put the sign up)

This second example was found inside a porter-potty in the parking lot before a Giants football game in New Jersey. Dry and precise in its wording, it warned of a gruesome fate if the technology were to be pushed beyond its limits.


Informative yet terrifying.

Okay, so at the time it seemed a bit out of context, rather than 10 people and a normal work week, the surroundings consisted of over 80,000 people and 5-10 hours of hard tailgating. So I kept my fingers crossed that the math was done correctly and there was enough of these in the vicinity to keep from any “unsanitary and overloaded” conditions.

All around helpful signage in this oh-so-important area of our lives.

Traveler’s Tales

August 6, 2008

Traveling is always a great opportunity to discover and engage new designs.  When we’re in unfamiliar settings we often notice the subtleties of our environments more, and are quicker to spot differences between neighborhoods, cities, or countries. 

With pictures taken from my trusty camera phone, I’ll try to share as many observations from my travels where design issues effect me first hand.  Some of the best design insights come out of this kind of field observation.  Not in a lab or formal setting, not from a human factors specialist or usability researcher, but just from us, as users of the world.

"Wait - what number are you under?"

"I'm under #6. No, the other 6! Where are you?"


Take this case for example, on the first leg of a recent journey of mine across the country.  Notice the head-sign “6″ repeating into the distance outside of the Arrivals pickup area at LAX airport.  Now try telling your ride to meet you under “6,” the only landmark you can see.  I did, and was finally picked up on my rides’ third loop around the airport.  Here’s a great case for salience, for differentiation from the surrounding signs.  A better design could have been as simple as unique #’s or letter pairings with each #.  All in all a minor frustration, but one that could have been avoided.  For the record, the weather down in LA was great.