Normative Signs: The Poetry of "Ought"

In which the author finds beauty in how people tell other people what to do.

Month: April, 2013

Notice: Not an Exit

not_an_exitThis one was sent to me by Wayne, who rightly wondered why this sign needed the word “NOTICE” at the top. I suppose that header might make sense in a context in which people are primed to expect notices to be labeled as such (perhaps to differentiate them from other kinds of signs, such as how-to signs or nameplates).

Walking on Conveyor WILL Result in Injury

conveyor_2This one is from the baggage carousel at an airport. I like the fact that it asserts so confidently that walking on the conveyor will result in bodily injury. It kind of reads like a threat.


Who, Me?

waste_containerThis is an odd one from I saw during a recent flight. It’s very prominently displayed in an airplane bathroom — an environment replete with normative signs. But, oddly, it’s presumably not directed at passengers, who presumably have no obligation to install waste containers.

Polite Notice, Dammit!

polite_noticeThis one is from Samantha Brennan. It’s posted at the University of Sheffield’s conference housing.

I like the fact that this sign actually asserts that it is, in fact, a polite notice. I guess the “thank you” at the end wasn’t enough.

Check Back Seat

check_back_seatThis sign is in the parking garage under the building I work in.

I guess it’s a warning designed to help you avoid being carjacked.

If so, it’s a crazy sign. Car jackings are virtually unheard of here in Toronto, as far as I know.

Gained in Translation: Solidarity

courtesy2After I posted on the bathroom courtesy sign in airline bathrooms, Wayne Norman sent me this similar-but-different sign, which is in the bathroom on an old American Airlines MD-80.

The sign I originally posted (reproduced below — click to enlarge) asks people to wipe the counter as a courtesy to the next customer. The one above, sent by Wayne, makes the same request. What’s interesting is the French version on each. On the sign below, the translation says, roughly:

“Out of respect for other users, please wipe the sink before throwing away your towel.”

The French version on the sign above, however, is quite different — different from the first French translation, and quite different from the English, too. What it says is roughly this:

“This sink is for the common use of travelers. A simple wipe of the towel will maintain its cleanliness.”

In this version, wiping the counter isn’t just courtesy; it’s a matter of solidarity among people using a shared resource.

Kudos to Wayne for sticking around to take this picture for me, in spite of the other red normative sign apparently flashing at him at the time!

As a Courtesy to the Next Passenger

courtesyThis is arguably my favourite normative sign ever, and perhaps the one that inspired my interest in the topic. (Click the image to enlarge!) It’s from the bathroom of an Air Canada jet. It’s a sign over the sink that says, “As a courtesy to the next passenger, may we suggest you use towel to wipe off the wash basin.”

I love this because of the way it appeals to courtesy in what is otherwise a highly normative and indeed highly regulated environment. A passenger jet is just abuzz with injunctions and limits and prohibitions and admonitions. All sorts of stuff is just plain forbidden. But in the bathroom, along with various prohibitions (e.g., tampering with the smoke detector!) is this one lovely suggestion that you might just want to do something courteous for the next person to use the facilities.

Elevator Capacity

elevator_capacityElevators standardly have signs like this one, indicating maximum number and weight of passengers. This is good information, on the face of it. No one wants the elevator they’re in to fail. In this context, it seems like a normative sign, rather than a sign that merely provides information.

But just how is anyone supposed to act on the maximum weight? Does anyone ever poll the crowd, gathering individual weights and summing them?

Child Safety & Reason-Giving

child_safetyI’m especially fond of normative signs that give reasons for their injunctions. I suspect that one side effect of the sheer volume of normative signs in our lives is that we tend to ignore them; so at least some sign-posters try to emphasize that their signs are not arbitrary, but grounded in reasons we all care about. This one is on the gate of a preschool near my house.

Danger, Danger: High Voltage!

high_voltageI guess if it’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing. But surely this is overkill. Or it should be. How much warning should anyone need to stay away from high voltage? This is the door of an electrical substation in my neighbourhood. Any one of those warnings ought to be enough. It’s electricity, OK? Stay the hell out!

See also: “Danger, Danger: High Voltage!” by Electric Six.