Normative Signs: The Poetry of "Ought"

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

Month: February, 2022

No Exit? No…Exit!

The sign below is on the inside — yes the inside — of the exit door for a university classroom. The words seem to affirm that, yes indeed, this is the exit. But the symbol above it is the universal symbol for “NO ACCESS” or something similar. The result is deeply confusing, though it would be interesting to see how many people really are confused in practice, and whether they do in fact hesitate or avoid using the door as a result. The sign, of course, is supposed to be on the OTHER side of the door, to prevent people from entering via the exit door.

Photo credit: Hasko von Kriegstein

Normative Density–Subway Edition

I’ve long been fascinated by what I call “normative density”–the quantity of normative claims made within a given public space. Public transit is a common location for high normative density. The picture* above–taken in a subway in Philadelphia–is a good example. In addition to the standard warning signs about how and when to exit the subway car safely, there’s also a interesting sign cajoling riders into using up only their fair share of space. Note that “Dude it’s rude” is, from a normative point of view, in a very different space from signs that simply forbid the relevant behaviour.

*Apologies to the friend who sent this photo to me–I’ve lost track of who you are! But thank you!