Did you notice? Can’t you read?

posted in: Uncategorized | 19

I go to the Mary Ward Centre once a week to print textiles. The centre, teaching staff, and courses are wonderful.

What I find difficult to stomach is the wide variety of notices telling you what to do. And more to the point, what not to do.

For a college where arts and graphics are a key part of the offer the wide variety of fonts is meaningless and messy. The widespread use of CAPITAL LETTERS and underling is unpleasant and shouty.  The laminator has been in service – “Use the laminator Sue – our notices need protecting from rain, snow, fabric paint and anything else the darn students throw at them” But the use of Clip Art when they teach several courses on Photoshop and photography is frankly disappointing.

I did make a little “joke” about all the messages you have to read before you get down to some seriously creative work. And some of the more outrageous ones seem to have been removed. But dozens remain, attached to every surface.

Here are some more. I have a further seven or eight to show you, I am getting weary too. What kind of impression do these notices give? That the students are stupid, don’t know how to stack chairs, insist of putting things down the toilet or into the wrong bins, and cannot be trusted to use the equipment without direct supervision.

When we get dressed in the morning we think about the first impression we might give to people who we meet.

Notices similarly make an important impression on people who enter our buildings. Only homes with very large numbers of children have notices (Have YOU Washed Your Cup?? Don’t forget to take your shoes off! No MUD in the BATHROOM). Notices are, by their nature, institutional and unfriendly. Some people think that nailing a “NO BALL GAMES” notice to the wall actually prevents residents from playing football, but in my experience (25 years in housing management) it has the opposite effect. It actually gives you the idea of playing ball games. Child psychologists warn that saying “Don’t fall!” will prompt an image in the mind of falling. Better to say “Hold on tight!”

My personal view about notices (and I try to prevent them at work) is

  • Have a notice board or specific areas for written communication
  • Adopt an attractive, consistent house style that looks professional. Visitors will use your toilets, lifts etc. Give them a good impression
  • Avoid clip-art and any tacky graphics, underlining and capital letters
  • Minimise the number to the absolutely essential
  • Check every few months that they are not out of date
  • Adopt a warm and friendly voice, and try to adopt a positive approach if possible
  • Talk to your staff rather than writing messages to them

I am thinking of using these notices in my next art project.

19 Responses

  1. Elle

    I agree! We had a similar problem in a shelter setting. It seemed that the peeve of the day prompted many unpleasant and unsightly signs. I finally got some improvement, when I suggested that if information was important enough to need a written notice, that the sign would need to include each of the languages of those being sheltered. Suddenly there was more talking and less silly sign making.

  2. Linde

    OMG I was considering doing a course there but I think I might get into trouble as I may resort to going round peeling the notices off. I wonder how we survived the 1970’s with so few instructions.

  3. ab

    Ahhh, one of my pet peeves when I was in housing. Reception areas and communal areas full of pompous edicts……yuk. Even last week, I was at one HA where the entire area was so covered in notices that it was incredibly difficult to spot the person behind the reception desk.

    Like you, I found that minimal notices had better impact and those notices that were deemed absolutely necessary (surprisingly few) were always worded with what we would like people to do rather than telling them what they absolutely mustn’t do. This was a much more effective use of the A4 and laminator.

    It’s a strange mindset.

  4. Galina

    Yes, I have always thought of abundance of notices in London as a form of information pollution. Their numerous presence certainly has a negative effect on people. Think how many DANGER signs you see on your way to work, for example? There was a little park with a lake in Eltham where I liked to walk. A beautiful place. But all along the lake walk was marred with notices DANGER DEEP WATER attached to the trees standing close to water. One such tree fell into the water and the sign was gradually sinking with it. Over time one learns to filter out that information, which makes the whole thing pointless. Doesn’t it?

  5. Cheryl

    I am so with you on this. I remember starting at a new school, the first thing I did was to take down all the rules and paint my new room. The ‘rule’ thing is something that I do not miss about teaching.

  6. amaryllislog

    At some point you just turn it off, it looks like trash. I agree, have a board for this type of message otherwise it’s just visual clutter. It wears me out too.

  7. mrsmole

    I had a psychology professor once who said parents should never start a sentence or order with “Don’t” as the brain actually filters out that word and goes onto the next word which is the one we are warning the child (in this case real grown up students ) about what not to do….like “don’t toss towels in the toilet”…the message your brain registers is, “toss the towels in the toilet”. So knowing this, most of the signs are really redundant and useless. Thank you for sharing the crazy world of adult education in your area!! Good luck!

  8. Hila

    My personal favourite on there is the “feminine disposal bin” – instant image of femininity and feminsim being disposed off in a very unattractive bin!

  9. Ruth Eaton

    This post made me chuckle, who doesn’t love a passive aggressive notice (or 10!) … especially love the angry face one. Sometimes you need to look around with fresh eyes and check what it all looks like – otherwise you stop seeing all the clutter.

  10. Book Urchin

    This post is spot on- what an angry bunch of signs ! It reminds me of the sign in my Grandmother’s bathroom when I was growing up that said “Unwashed Hands Carry Germs ” with a big graphic of hands which looked much too official to be in someone’s house!

  11. The Northern Reader

    My heroine! If the campaign starts here, please sign me up (and yes, I have been known to do a Lynn Truss and correct for spelling, punctuation and grammar with my trusty red indelible marker)

  12. symondezyn

    As a graphic designer, I constantly have to try and quell my gag reflex upon confronting bad typography, terrible spelling/grammar, and excessive usage of clipart – unfortunately, in many cases places like these have to cater to what we sometimes call the ‘lowest common denominator’ – people that do not pay attention to polite, well designed signage, nor seem to possess an ounce of common sense, common decency, or common courtesy. That said, there has to be a way to communicate more effectively than this – there are just SO MANY of those signs in one building – how could anyone refrain from just tuning them out??

  13. witness2fashion

    I can’t remember the name of the book — my husband read passages to me– but the author wrote that one sign of bad design or bad architecture is the need to post signs. Classic example: “Push” and Pull” signs on doors. If the door handle was well designed, the way to use it would be obvious. We were skeptical about the design for our multi-million dollar new library — and yes, hundreds of thousands of books were sent to landfill because the new building did have less shelf space than the old one — but we eventually started laughing on our “new library” tour: within a week of opening, its sleek marble walls had paper notices taped all over them.

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