Bad Signage

Visual Language

Find three bad signs and one good sign.
Choose one of the bad signs and fix it using photoshop.

The first sign that caught my attention was a surveillance sign in New Haven. Here it is in comparison to a New York surveillance sign that’s posted next to several bike racks:

surveillance-new-haven surveillance-new-york

The NYU version is pretty typical of surveillance signs. It depicts a black camera pointing out in the viewer’s direction and has a clear WARNING (in the signature NYU purple). The subtext is, DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT STEALING THESE BIKES.

Meanwhile, the New Haven sign is perplexing. You’ve probably seen signs in shops that say “Smile! You’re on camera :)” in order to deter theft. Those are slightly irritating, but the New Haven sign takes it to a whole other level. You’re really going to say “LOOKING GOOD,” when the subtext is “DON’T PULL ANY SHIT, Y’HEAR?” How passive-aggressive is that? Graphically, the play button embedded in the rising sun makes no sense, and the stark black camera against the friendly pale blue background feels like I’m in a Big Brother dystopia. Yikes.

The next bad sign I encountered was in Chinatown, NYC:


The logo for Jo Jo Skin Care is appalling. At first glance, it looks kind of like a fish with a barbed tail. Then there’s the eerie thespian mask-like face. Then there’s the negative space that creates a slight optical illusion of a face in profile. It took me a full minute to realize that the logo is actually a “J”. I’m having a really hard time understanding the concentric semicircles that protrude from the face (the part that I originally thought was a fish fin). Is that supposed to be an earring? Holy shit, I’m just now realizing as I type up this post that it’s representative of the “o” in “Jo”. To me, it’s more representative of the “o” in “oy vey”.

Here is the first sign I came across that I liked:



Even though it’s a little too busy for my taste, I liked the minimalist color palette, the artist’s illustration of the cityscape, and the font. The font reminds me of hammered steel and construction beams.

Here is my favorite bad sign, and the one I decided to fix:


Photo by user sbolrock via Flickr

I’ll admit that I cheated a little bit–I told my friend Shazeda about this assignment and she immediately texted me her favorite bad road sign. Though she didn’t take the picture above, it’s a sign that she’s passed several times on road trips through Canada.

On the one hand, I love everything about this sign and feel like it’s kind of blasphemous to change it. On the other hand…this can’t possibly be the best way to convey that there are strong winds in a particular area. Below are two incarnations of my first concept:

wind-flip wind-flip-white

I retained some of the “whimsy” from the original, because it’s doubtful your average wind would be strong enough to flip a car. The text is in French because the road sign is located in Quebec (though ideally the image should speak for itself). I wasn’t sure whether I preferred a white or black gust of wind. Still on the fence.

Here is a more nuanced version:


In this version, the gust of wind is much less prominent than the swerving car. It’s more realistic, but I’m not sure I prefer it. The negative space on the right bothers me.

Here is my favorite version of all, with a side by side comparison to the original:

quebec_wind_sign-svg caution-hot-air


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