Waiting for a sign

A book on information communication systems highlights just how important clear graphics and signage can be. Matthew Valentine reads the signs.

If you ever want proof of the need for decent information graphics, go to Segaworld in London’s Trocadero Centre. I recently spent half an hour there trying to find the exit, and eventually managed to escape only by running very fast down the up escalator.

The confusing signage in Segaworld could explain why the place is invariably so empty, but at least it means the punters who do venture in will stay for a while. Such confusion is less appropriate in, say, an underground station, where getting people in and out as quickly as possible is the desired effect. And if aircraft cockpits had signage as poor as Segaworld’s we would all fly a lot less often.

Information Graphics: Innovative Solutions in Contemporary Design, by Peter Wildbur and Michael Burke, takes a look at what makes effective graphics work.

The nature of the projects featured highlights how important effective signs are in the modern world. Air traffic control screens, jet engine maintenance manuals and motorway signs don’t allow wide margins for error in their interpretation.

Each of these projects is clearly presented in the book, designed by the in-house team at publisher Thames and Hudson, but no matter how well presented a book on signs is, it is a tall order to make it actually interesting. Signs and instructions are essential to our lives, but we only really notice them if they are missing or incorrect. As in the comedy sketch which sees zoo visitors entering the Topical Fish department, because the zoo keeper has trouble with his Rs blowing off, we are only interested in signs when we can complain about them.

If more businesses had a copy of this book on their shelves, we might have less to complain about. The next time you are lost or confused in a shop or a tourist attraction suggest to a member of staff that they buy a copy. If they can find the door.

Information Graphics: Innovative Solutions in Contemporary Design by Peter Wildbur and Michael Burke is published by Thames and Hudson on 14 December, priced 24.95

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