Normative Signs: The Poetry of "Ought"

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

Month: June, 2013

Move Over (You Know You Want To!)

move_overHere’s a sign advising motorists to do something of the need to do something they obviously will want to do anyway: switch lanes to avoid an immovable pile of streetcar rails, currently being stored in the right-hand lane.

Ignoring this advice is not impossible. At least not for those with a death wish.

This is Ossington Avenue in Toronto, by the way.

Please Use Revolving Doors

revolving_door This sign is at the Royal York Hotel, Toronto. It’s a pretty common sign, often found on the complex doorways of hotels, universities, office buildings, etc. For climate control reasons (as some signs like this make clear) they want you to use the revolving door, rather than the swinging door that is much more likely to allow in a gust of cold / hot / etc wind.

Such signs can be mildy irritating, especially since you generally end up reading them as you’re just about to do something other than what they’re asking you to do.

Also worth noting: if you look below, you see the sign actually appears twice, which gives the whole thing a lovely air of onomatopoeia. Say it out loud: “please use revolving doors, please use revolving doors, please use revolving doors….”

Thanks to Yoni Freedhoff for sending the pic!


Stop-Sign Jamming

stop_harperI hesitate to start a new category (new for this blog) of normative signs that have been modified (enhanced? defaced?).

Here’s a STOP sign that has had the name of Canada’s Prime Minister added. It’s worth noting, I suppose, that this modification does little or nothing to change the impact of the stop sign itself.

Should we call this “norm jamming,” by way of analogy to culture jamming?

(Thanks to Sheldon Wein for the picture.)

You MUST Push the Button

push_buttonThis one is in Washington, DC. (That’s the Capitol in the background.)

Exactly what’s being demanded here seems to depend on how you parse the sentence. Is it “You must [push the call button and thereby call for walk signal] before daring to cross the street”, or is it merely “You must push the call button IF you want the walk signal”?

Thanks to Wayne for sending this.

Don’t Spit in the Fountain

fountain_spitThis sign is posted at a university gym. This is another one of those signs that you just know must have an interesting history. (This is something I point out to my business students: any regulation has a history, and it’s worth pausing to consider just what that history might be, what conflict led to the rule, etc.)

Also interesting that they’re appealing to health concerns, here, rather than to basic etiquette. (How likely is it that the health claim made here is based on anything like hard evidence?)

Thanks to Joe Desjardins for the photo.

Go Smoke in the Street

9mThis sign was sent to me by one of my MBA students, who pointed out that, if taken seriously, this sign — posted on a building just less than 9 metres from Dundas St. in Toronto — would require smokers to stand in the street.

Gate Can Cause Death

gate_deathI like especially emphatic normative signs. This one pulls no punches: Be careful, here, because this gate can cause serious injury or death.

And in addition, this sign features a truly brilliant icon representing some dude getting crushed by…well, crushed by a box with an arrow in it, which I suppose represents the aforementioned lethal gate.

Don’t Even Think About It

dont_even_think2Here’s a ‘no parking’ sign with attitude.

(Thanks to Peter Jarowski for sending the picture, which was taken in downtown Ottawa.)

You get some understanding of why the sign is so emphatic when you see it in context: it is posted above a “siamese” connection, a place where firefighters can connect a hose to pump water into a burning building’s sprinkler system.

No Shelter for You!

tornado_doorHere’s yet another example of what I lovingly refer to as a ‘normatively rich environment,’ in this case an exit door at Chicago O’Hare International Airport. As always with such environments, the first thing to note is that richness really means complexity, which means important normative messages are easy to misunderstand, or miss altogether.

Thanks to Wayne Norman yet again for the pic.

Here are a couple other things to note:

First, take a look at the red Warning sign on the right, which explains the penalty for failure to use your ID badge when exiting through this door. The “minimum” fine is $100, but that fine only “may” be imposed, or not, and in the latter case as Wayne points out the true minimum fine is $0.

Next, consider the pairing of signs at the left-hand side of the door. The top one indicates that this door leads to a “Severe weather shelter area.” Unfortunately (for most of us!) the bottom sign says that you need to input a security code prior to using the door. So, in case of tornado, I guess it sucks not to have one of those. (In fact, I suspect the code is only needed in order to avoid an alarm going off, rather than to make the door open, but the sign is at least unclear about that. And in case of tornado, that’s the last thing you need.)

Kayak Wash Station

kayak_wash_areaHere’s an interesting permissive sign. It’s a “Kayak Wash Area” sign, posted in the parking garage of a condo building in Victoria, British Columbia.

Thanks to Daniel Weinstock for sending this one. Daniel points out that this sign seems to imply that it’s not ok to wash kayaks anywhere else in the garage, and perhaps that in other parts of the garage one washes other things (surf boards?). Only on the west coast could such designated areas be required, or perhaps even plausible.