Friday, February 2, 2007

Week Four: The Weak Sign

Imagine you are driving down a one-lane road in a European country when you spot a triangle-shaped sign with a red border framing a drawing of a broken bed. What would you think? Would you think the municipality disallowed sleeping in the road? Or that beds are forbidden on the road? Or "Warning! Falling beds ahead?" Roadway signs convey clear and succinct information. They should not leave the driver working through confusion and doubt.

Week Four: Culturally Laden Sign

Crude. Offensive. Obscene. Undeniable. Yep raising the middle finger is a simple gesture leaving no ambiguity in its message. The United States Federal Communications Commission has even banned the display of the middle finger–--labeling it obscene.

This is a symbol that is rooted in history–--ancient Roman writings have mentioned the "impudent finger" as a gesture aimed to insult–--and performed repeatedly through American culture. Through its usage, “flipping the bird” has gain a strong foothold on the American lexicon.

For instance, one of Johnny Cash’s more indelible images shows the “Man in Black” flashing the finger to a Nashville music community that never truly supported him. Cash’s action placed him into a club that includes famous athletes and politicians who lifted the middle finger. The list is long and includes distinguished guests Atlanta Falcons Quarterback Michael Vick and former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.

Week Four: Public Signage

No smoking signs are easy to distinguish because the icon is consistent in its presentation and location. The sign appears before the feature presentation on a movie screen. Airplane passengers see the icon above their seats next to the "fasten your seat-belt icon." The sign is plastered all around hospital waiting rooms.

The icon works on a visual level because of its use of the color red, which in this case, signifies a command, much like a stop sign. The forbidden object in question is a cigarette signified by its linear shape for the body and curvy lines trailing off from the end signifying smoke. The thick line running through the inside of the circle means “no access.” Icon taken from

Week Four: Metaphor

The left arrow is a staple of almost any web browser because it points the user to the direction he or she wants to visit. The arrow points the user into reverse telling the Web user, “click me to return.” Simple. Clear.

Web usability “expert” Steve Krug wrote in his book, “Don't Make Me Think! A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability” that all elements and their function must be self-evident.Mission accomplished here. Icon taken from WPClipart collection.