Normative Signs: The Poetry of "Ought"

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

Month: May, 2013

Look Both Ways

look_both_waysThis is an unusual one, mostly for the way it’s presented. It’s got a nice aesthetic, and could be mistaken for an art installation. It’s in the median, at a 2-stage crossing where a trail meets a busy road. To cross the road, you have to cross one lane to get to the sign, turn right and walk down the median, where there’s another similar sign that says “WAIT FOR GAP,” and then there’s an outlet from the median to let you cross the other lane. So the geometry of the crossing kind of emphasizes the warning.

The sign is located on Pottery Rd. in Toronto, where the DVP trail crosses.

Thanks to Scott Gavura for the photo.

Here’s the sign in context, in a photo taken from Google Streetview:

Lavarse Las Manos, Dude!

photo 2This sign on a bathroom door telling employees, in Spanish, to wash their hands before returning to work would be unremarkable except for the fact that it’s ONLY in Spanish, and posted in a hipster café with zero Hispanic employees or customers. Call it ironic regulatory compliance.

Thanks to Wayne Norman for the picture.


Caution — niotuaC

Check_heightNo, your eyes are not deceiving you, and I haven’t posted the picture backwards. This is how it looks in real life — written backwards, presumably so that truck drivers looking in their rear-view mirrors can read it.

The sign is posted outside the Canadian Stage Company on Berkeley Street in Toronto. Thanks to Paul Gorbould.

Emergency Equipment Only

emerg_equipment_onlyI mostly like this one for the accompanying artwork.

I like the fact that they decided to illustrate just what they meant by “emergency equipment.” I also find the lonely little guy in a raft oddly charming.

The sign is on a Jetblue plane, by the way.

(Thanks to Wayne Norman for the picture.)

Illegal Dumping Prohibited

illegal_dumpingThis one’s a head-scratcher, in that it’s a bit of a truism that illegal dumping is prohibited. By definition, it is prohibited everywhere.

I assume the intention is to acknowledge that some dumping might be permitted in this location — so you might see a bag of trash here — but that doesn’t imply that you, stranger, can dump your trash here.

(Thanks to Sheldon and Thea for this picture, which was taken in Halifax, Nova Scotia.)

If You Lick Them…

lick_shoes_2This one is from Northbound Leather on Yonge St. in Toronto. It’s a nice play on the traditional “If you break it, you buy it” sign.
(Thanks to Tracy Isaacs for this photo.)

Tips Are Sexy

tips_are_sexyHand-written signs are, to me, a special category. This one is kind of great. It’s a simple declarative sentence, asserting that tips are sexy. (Frankly, kind of implausible, but hey. People find the weirdest things sexy. Hmm, wait. Is generosity sexy? Is that gender specific, or not? Anyway…) But of course, the implicit normative message is clear: you should leave a tip. I mean, you want to be seen as sexy, right?

I would love to see an experiment that tested whether such a sign is more effective than other signs encouraging people to tip.

Please…Or Else!

streetcar_fare2Here’s one from a streetcar here in Toronto.

It includes an oh-so-polite request to “please” pay the proper fare. And then a threat that says that by doing so, you’ll avoid a fine.

It’s kind of cute that they feel the need to mention that not only will scofflaws have to pay a fine of $195, but (gasp!) applicable fees, too!

No Trucks (NIMBY)

no_trucksHere’s a sight familiar in many residential neighbourhoods. Nestled within the cluster of parking restrictions: a “No trucks” icon. You can imagine all kinds of reasons for forbidding trucks on particular streets, including especially the width of the street.

But limiting trucks (and commercial vehicles more generally) is also famously an instance of NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) thinking. This is a reminder that normative signs can have moral consequences — in particular, in terms of distributive justice.

Exercise is Incredibly Dangerous

Toronto-20130519-00628Here’s a sign giving some rather stringent advice to potential users of a particular piece of exercise equipment, located at a park in Toronto.

The list of warnings really is quite exhaustive. “Not recommended for children under the age of 14.” And “consult your physician before starting any physical fitness routine.” There are also warnings that would be obvious to anyone who just looked around: “There is no supervision of this equipment.”

Some of the warnings are impossibly vague: “This equipment is not suitable for people with general health conditions.” What on earth is a “general health condition?” And how do I know if I have one?

(Aside: this warning sign seems to belong in the category of signs that are posted purely to forestall some minor possibility of litigation. Surely almost no one is going to read, let alone heed, such a sign.)

By now you may be wondering what sort of diabolical exercise machine was seen to be so treacherous as to warrant all these warnings. Here it is….Toronto-20130519-00627

(Thanks to Nancy Walton for these pics.)