TM&Th blog
Jean-luc Doumont
Are the French twisting your arm?

On my way to Santiago de Chile to run my yearly short course
on writing scientific papers, I had to catch a connecting flight
in the rebuilt Terminal 2E at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris.
In the automatic rail shuttle (LISA) that was swiftly taking me
to Satellite S3 (“Galerie Parisienne”), I noticed the sign below.

CDG sign

Every time I look at this sign,
my right shoulder twitches
at the very thought of being
twisted backwards like that
and my right foot isn't sure
what to do (unless perhaps
a “toe” as in tap dancing).
Granted, the overall look of
this little squarehead here
is fully consistent with that
of other such warning signs
at Charles de Gaulle airport,
but why this unconventional,
unintuitive graphical choice
to represent a human being?

My best explanation for this twisted pictorial representation
is a quest of originality for originality's sake—a temptation
hard to resist for graphic artists. How can I create something
that is different, special, unique?
is a natural question indeed
for any creative endeavor, but originality without a purpose
is unlikely to yield effectiveness. Some originality is harmless:
the slight noise it creates for one sign may be compensated
by the consistent, recognizable look of the whole collection.
Here, however, the original twist makes the intended action
harder to identify. From a distance, I did not even recognize
the human shape: I took the sign for some sort of logotype.
Fortunately, the redundant combination of picture and text
helped me make sense of the sign—but at close range only.

To be both original and effective, how about being faultless?
Communication is so universally riddled with problems that
striving for excellence is sure to make your work stand out.
Besides a more intuitive picture, the above sign would benefit
from a more careful verbal part: correct punctuation in French
(a comma after sécurité and a hyphen in tenez-vous), the use
of lowercase text (more readable than text set in all capitals),
and, for those of us who understand both French and English,
a consistent choice of plural (barres) or singular (hand rail).

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