TM&Th blog
Jean-luc Doumont
From Latvia with love

While in Riga to run two workshops at the University of Latvia
earlier this week, I was of course on the lookout for additions
to my collection of unusual pictorial representations in signs.
Although I did not encounter anything truly out of the ordinary
in the limited time I had to walk around town, I did recognize
typical issues worth a reminder. Let me discuss three pictures.

Inconsistent signage

The first, at Riga airport (above), exhibits issues of similarity.
Similarity of visual appearance suggests similarity of meaning
or function, yet the two square icons above (no smoking, left,
and baggage claim, right), while similar in shape and position,
do not function in the same way: the left one tells passengers
what (not) to do, presumably right here, whereas the right one
tells them about a specific location, elsewhere in the airport.
With its two prominent arrows, the above display seems to say
This way for (1) the no-smoking zone, (2) the baggage claim,
and (3) the exit
. We can clarify the intended meaning simply
by avoiding the misleading similarity: first, use another shape
(how about, say, the conventional red circle with red diagonal?)
for the no-smoking sign; second, segregate it from the rest
of the display, for example by placing it on the far left of it
(without an arrow) and placing the navigational information
(baggage claim, exit, arrows) on the far right—far enough
from the sign at left to be readily recognized as independent.
(A third improvement might be to replace the words Izeja/Exit
by a sign similar to the one for baggage claim or, better yet,
to display combinations of visual sign and verbal label for all.)

The next picture (below), taken at Atpūtas Centrs, reminds us
that pictures are ambiguous and condemned to be concrete.

Mystery sign

What is the sign supposed to mean? Do not step on the plants?
That's a likely enough interpretation. Do not walk in high heels
on the uneven pavement through the plants?
That's admittedly
a little more far-fetched, but not altogether improbable either.
Anyone for If wearing high heels, do not make such big steps
as to strain your ankle?
I knew women's shoes can be torture,
but this picture over an overflexed ankle is painful to watch—
it reminds me of the twisted arm at CDG airport (see Entry 2).

Hand-dryer sign

My last picture from Latvia (left) shows yet again how difficult
it seems to be to represent a generic human being. This one
sure has the most explicit buttocks in my (modest) collection,
has a weird hand (just you try stretching your fingers backward
until they are perpendicular to your arm) and an unstable head
(it looks like it is going to roll down the neckline any moment),
and seems to be throwing a dart at the hand dryer, which is
positioned surprisingly high. It must be possible to come up
with a representation that is both simpler and more realistic.

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