Archives for posts with tag: Sign

There’s a new-ish kind of road sign on Irish roads. I like it. The sign combines a speed camera and an instruction.

When you’re travelling along a road with a certain speed limit, the sign shows you the speed you’re going. If you’re going in excess of the speed limit, which is also displayed in the sign, the speed shows red. When you dip under the speed, it shows green. Crucially, after it shows you your speed in green it then posts a ‘thank you’, also in green.

These are signs with manners. They thank you for obeying their rules. But, crucially, they remind you about the speed limit in a creative way and also encourage you to drive below the limit. You comply, and you get your reward, someone’s – or something’s – thanks.

I have no data on this, but I would imagine that these new-ish signs are effective, certainly more effective than other kinds. Until, perhaps, we tire of the novelty factor. But will we ever tire of someone using good manners?

The number system is a handy thing. You know the sequence of it and this helps you navigate life and work in an incalculable – pun intended – number of ways.

It’s only when the numbering system becomes unpredictable and lets you down that you feel helpless and want to exclaim ‘WTF!’ very loudly.

Take the numbering system in the estate I live in. Calling it maverick would be like calling a serial killer troubled. You struggle to fathom why they did it that way. I swear people never give a thought for how someone – possibly at some point a customer or buyer – can find it so hard to find a place for the first time. I don’t know a resident of the estate who understands how the numbering works. Our postman does, but that’s his job after all. You get visitors coming in asking ‘excuse me, I’m looking for number 37?’ and you have to say ‘I’m sorry, I do live here, but I don’t know. The numbering system is a mystery. You might try down there, but no promises.’

The other day I was travelling to the new London office of a client for a meeting. I had in my head a picture of where the office was, but when you emerge from the underground you rarely know which side of the road you are. There tend not to be helpful exit signs like ‘High Holborn – south side’. As a consequence, you don’t know which direction to go. Try asking someone which way is east, west, north or south – so easy in the US and engrained in city-building and thus people’s heads – and you’ll get a confused look as if you asked them what the chances were of seeing a Hutu tribesman on the south Pole.

I was advised to go in one direction, which I did for a few minutes. Following numbers is harder than you might think, as few offices or shops display their number, possibly because they don’t want you to find them the first time. After a while I realised that the numbers on both sides of the street were heading in the wrong direction. So I did a one-eighty and headed the other direction, but suffered the same fate. Worried that the bank of offices I needed were in fact held somewhere in a parallel universe, I enquired again and was sent back the original way. Sure enough, the numbering went against me again, but then after 5 minutes started to move in my favour.

Why on earth would you make it difficult for people to find you the first time, people who want to give you their time and money? Madness I tell you, madness.

It’s interesting how we’re conditioned to behave according to certain authority signals. A uniform, a whistle, a type of hat, whatever it might be, we interpret them as cues that someone is in charge, or supposed to be, or wants us to think they are.

We’ve all seen the tour guides wielding their umbrellas and clip boards like ceremonial symbols of governmental power. “Blue group! Blue group! I’ve got a clip board and I’m not afraid to use it!”

In the 1980’s and 90’s, before there was a computer on every desk, we lived in a world of paper. A sure-fire way to look busy and shirk work was to wander from office to office carrying a sheaf of papers. “Yes, that’s right, terribly important, just personally delivering this vital piece of information.”

It’s not just authority uniforms that we have an acquired, automatic response to. You can make the same argument for all kinds of uniforms. People of a criminal or ne’erdowell disposition rely on these signals to gain access to our house without raising suspicions – sometimes when we are home, but usually when we’re not – and take our belongings. Sometimes artists who like to remain aloof use them as well to preserve their anonymity.

I remember a few years ago my wife, who at the time was a stay-at-home Mum in a rather nice 18th century rented cottage in southern England, spotted a man approach our dwelling during the day in a van, get out in running gear, come over to our house and pretend to do some stretches for jogging while all the time peering into our windows and ‘casing the joint’, before walking ten yards back to his car to drive off again. You’d never think someone purportedly out for a jog was engaged in a job of another kind.

Uniforms and other signals lead us to think in a certain way.  They can also mis-lead us, to our cost.