The international war over exit signs

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The sign on the left is familiar to Americans, but other countries think it is a horrible design, preferring the green running man on the right or a variation of it. Julia Turner of Slate has an in-depth article on the 25-year international fight over exit signs. It's one of a terrific six-part series about sign history and design.

Fans of Ota's running man point to two key advantages: It's a pictogram, and it's green. The sign's wordlessness means it can be understood even by people who don't speak the local language. And the green color, they argue, just makes sense. Green is the color of safety, a color that means go the world over. Red, on the other hand, most often means danger, alert, halt, please don't touch. Why confuse panicked evacuees with a sign that means right this way in a color that means stop? International designers tend to think our system is illogical and consider our rejection of the running man to be as dumb as our refusal to adopt that other sensible international norm, the metric system.

Are the running-man advocates right? This battle over the exit sign has been brewing for 25 years now, and the little green guy is slowly making inroads in the States. But to understand whether he should triumph, we must first understand America's skepticism toward pictograms and symbols, which have long been more popular in the rest of the world than they are here.

The Big Red Word vs. the Little Green Man: The international war over exit signs

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  1. The green man is so panicky looking, though. Shouldn’t he be more “do not panic” looking?

  2. I always thought the exit sign was red as in “In case of EMERGENCY go this way, otherwise don’t you dare open this door.” They don’t paint fire extinguishers green.

    1. Actually, until recently they did paint some extinguishers green. The British Standard for extinguishers used to have the entire body of the extinguisher colour coded to indicate the kind of extinguisher; red for water, black for CO2, blue for powder, and so on… and green for halon. They’re now all red with a coloured panel to indicate the type – same as previous colours – and halon is no longer used, so green is retired.

      Using a fire extinguisher to fight a fire is a dangerous thing to do – it’s always “only if it is safe to do so, otherwise get the heck out” – so having exits green for safety and extinguishers red for danger seems right to me.

    2. I think this certainly motivates a lot of the difference. It’s also probably true that Americans are socialized to think that in an emergency, rules don’t apply. If there’s a door marked in red, that normally one would not enter, that’s exactly the door we’d pick when shit started going down.

    3. “They don’t paint fire extinguishers green”
      Yes they do….. Or did. British fire extinguishers were colour coded as follows.
      Red=Water,
      Cream=AFF (Aqueous Film-Forming Foam).
      Blue=Dry Powder
      Black=Carbon Dioxide
      and
      Green-Halon (no longer in use, with some exceptions, military, and aircraft)
      New extinguishers are red, conforming to European economic Community requirements. Less safe, in my opinion, as you can easily the wrong one, whereas overall colour coding meant that you could easily grab the appropriate extinguishant for the type of fire.

      1. Yeah, I’d be a big fan of a black colored extinguisher. Really handy to find a black painted extinguisher in a smoke filled or unlit room.

  3. Isn’t the human eye more sensitive to red than green? I could be totally off on that one, though.

    1. I think the eye is most sensitive to green. (Much of our environment is different shades of green.) See Wikipedia.

      Although it is probably better to say the eye is most sensitive to contrast, especially when things are moving. (Hence a design like this on an ambulance.)

      1. What does sensitive to color mean. RED mean stop and go and it is that simple. A person will see red before green.

  4. I recall that in England, the signs say “WAY OUT”. But that was 30 years ago – it may have been replaced with a metric equivalent.

  5. Well, in defense of the US version, it’s 75% legible if inserted upside-down. The other one, not so much.

  6. Symbols are not inherently superior to text. The proliferation of little stylized icons of questionable interpretation reminds me of those crappy early web sites with “mystery meat” navigation. I suspect we’re all going to become “symbol blind” before too long, the same way we mentally tune out advertising logos and brandmarks.

    Anyway, you don’t need to read “EXIT” to understand what the sign is indicating. Exit signs need not be red (the ones at work are green). They’re also required to be well-lit (with emergency lighting for a power failure) and prominently placed above the hallway or door leading to the exit. I don’t see how a pictogram, even a lighted pictogram instead of the flat ones shown in the article, would be an improvement.

  7. Before we have this debate, let’s try to identify at least one person who is confused or misled by our red exit signs.

    But here are my two cents anyway: the running man looks panicked, and the color green suggests that I should go like hell. I was always told to remain calm and walk, not run. The authoritative red EXIT commands me to stop what I’m doing and leave the building in an orderly fashion.

    1. I’d like to second hungryjoe’s comment – the text EXIT sign has worked, without confusion or issue, for decades. Until we get reports that they’re losing efficacy, I see no reason to change them.

      And on a personal note, I always find myself interpreting the green man EXIT sign as “this is a regular way out” rather than “this way in case of emergency.” I suspect that if I had grown up with the sign I’d interpret it as an emergency sign. I think the reason I see it that way is because with a quick glance, it’s not obvious to me that the man is running through the door; it looks like an exaggerated walk.

  8. The green one has an eerie sort of calm that contrasts the fleeing image. “Proceed through the exit, and then there will be cake.”

  9. Hmm. I rather like the exit sign as red. I will notice red before green because it’s an “alert” colour. Red says to me, “Pay attention! Something bad could happen if you don’t, or is already happening.” I think I would respond better to red than green because it’s authoritative and demands you to pause for a sec and think clearly, which is valuable in an emergency. Green means “all is well; proceed and/or ignore me.”

  10. Well, as an American living overseas (been here for 2 years so far), I don’t think exit when I see the green man. My first reaction is something like “elevator” or “escalator.” Even after 2 years+ of seeing it, I have to make a conscious effort to remember that that sign points me to an exit.

    Everyone seems to spout the advantages of “pictograms” but most of the time, the pictures aren’t clear at all to me.

    Just my 2 cents…..

  11. Montréal has exit signs that say “SORTIE” that are done up like The States’ “EXIT” signs. It’s not just an American thing.

  12. most of you are missing the point that the green running man is a STANDARD, the world over, so it’s not ambiguous, and would not remain so for long, here.

    many of you are missing the point that the exit signs of either type are not solely near nor pointing to, nor over emergency exits.

    green running man makes sense to me as MUCH better than ours. But i’m a commie because i also use metric as much as possible. it’s 6*C outside.

    1. But i’m a commie because i also use metric as much as possible. it’s 6*C outside.

      Don’t you mean 6ºC outside? The * symbol is for multiplication in programming languages, so you actually just said “6 times C”. Unless we know the value of C (assuming we’re not solving for zero here), we have no idea what you actually just said.

      (Note: the º symbol can be entered by holding the ALT key, then pressing 0186 on the numeric keypad, then releasing the ALT key. You can also use the Character Map applet, located in your Start Menu->All Programs->Accessories->System Tools)

  13. The way I see it is that part of the reason the EXIT signs are red is that they aren’t usually meant as primary exits. The EXIT signs typically indicate an alternative exit that is only to be used for an emergency.

    If I saw the green sign while I was traveling, I would assume that I could go that way. But what happens when I set off an alarm? Panic?

    Also, all emergency exit signs should be lit. An emergency exit is no good to anyone if they can’t see it through smoke.

  14. The human eye is far more sensitive to green than it is to red (try lighting a room with a green vs. red bulb. which looks brighter?)

    Green light out of the corner of your eye would be very distracting, while the red seems to disappear in the background, until I’m looking for it. For places like movie theatres, I would imagine those green signs being rather annoying.

    I’m sure the non-English speakers will smell smoke, see everyone else in the room getting up and evacuating, and will follow them to safety.

  15. To those who say the green figure looks panicked I suggest to you that if you have to exit a plane in an emergency, everyone will be panicked anyway…the sign won’t increase their panic.

    I read in “Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers” that the majority of plane survivors are male. Not because they posses more calmness in emergency situations, but because they posses the strength to push obstacles (and others?) out of their way in order to flee the burning plane.

  16. #2: Painting fire extinguishers red has nothing to do with the idea of stop vs go. It is to distinguish it from its surroundings.

    #3: Actually yellow-green is where we are most sensitive visually.

  17. I always laugh when I see a sign that says “no” and then under it, it has the “no smoking” pictogram (a cigarette inside a red circle with a clash through it”. That’s a double negative, and it means that everyone must smoke. No no smoking.

  18. “America’s skepticism toward pictograms and symbols” is quite easily explained. You don’t need to know know English in order to understand them, so their use implies an acceptance–and, in the minds of many people, a fostering–of people who don’t speak English. And if there’s one thing Americans hate, it’s people who don’t speak English.

    1. Well, of course. Not speaking English is a deliberate affront to the awesomeness that is the U!S!A!. Or something like that.

  19. hanging signs everywhere is a big tradition in germany. and they have lots of signs. the green sign with the little funny man on it is just one in a million. and when you use lots of signs, the signs have to match each other. if you want to see some of these signs:

    http://www.wolkdirekt.com/rettungsschilder.html

    as you can see: green signs with arrows, first aid etc.

    @littlerunninggag the green signs glow in the dark.

  20. I have worked in Nepal many years and am often on flights to and from Qatar full of migrant workers. They often don’t understand the symbol of a cigarette with an x through it. Symbols don’t always perfectly convey what you assume everyone thinks their meaning is, with or without words. me personally, I see red and I think red fire, so to me, the sign makes perfect sense even if its not in English. But i’m just another crazy American, so who am I to know?

  21. The colours on the European signs are meant to be consistent:
    Green — safety, emergency
    Red — fire, danger, forbidden
    Yellow — hazards
    Blue — orders

    Between my desk and the toilet there are:

    Five green emergency exit signs.
    One green first aid kit.
    Three red fire alarm buttons.
    One green emergency door release button.
    One blue “in case of fire do this” notice.
    Three blue “fire door – keep shut” signs.
    One yellow “caution – hot water” sign.
    One yellow “caution – high voltage” sign.
    Three red fire extinguishers (one with a black cap = CO2, two with beige caps = foam).
    One red “no smoking” sign.

    It certainly adds some colour to the place :-)

  22. These days, I have to say that if it’s the US against the rest of the world on any issue involving a bit of intelligent thought, the safest bet is to go with what the rest of the world thinks. I vote for the little green guy.

    1. Ironic. Dumb Americans are at least optimistic enough to assume their fellows can read, while Europeans suffer from “the soft bigotry of low expectations.”

  23. One of the local parking lots around here has the standard crosswalk sign, the little guy walking between two lines. But someone felt that wasn’t clear enough, so there’s a secondary sign that says PED XING.

    Seriously? You can’t figure out the crosswalk sign used all over the country, but you’re going to get PED XING? I always felt that was a triumph of idiocy over design.

  24. Re: the anti-American sentiment:

    Red “EXIT” signs are de rigeur in Toronto, and I think probably most of Canada. We use Celsius too and teach the metric system in our schools. And for some reason, despite our anti-foreigner EXIT signs, we have two official languages. Plus lots of immigrants running around speaking all kinds of not-English.

    WHAT’S GOING ON HERE

  25. And in darker places (Cinema’s) they’re lit too.

    The point well made is that EXIT (whilst fairly self explanitory) isn’t too helpful for those who may not have English as a language, or even that alphabet (Cyrillic anyone?).

    Of course on the flip side, the green running man might not necessarily imply anything unless you are already aware of the symbolism…in a panic it’s too complex.

    I guess there are 101 arguments which is better, which is why the debate continues to rage. But I don’t see any way in which one sign is inherently superior to another.

    1. The point well made is that EXIT (whilst fairly self explanitory) isn’t too helpful for those who may not have English as a language, or even that alphabet (Cyrillic anyone?).

      and illustrated by:

      I once set off the alarms at the treasury under the cathedral in Aachen, Germany, the one that was originally built by Charlemagne in the 800s. I thought that the green sign with the little guy going out was the way out, that it was the exit, not an emergency exit.

      Both tell me one thing: it’s important to research a little before heading to a foreign country. You need to know some basic words to get along there; I’d argue that if you don’t know the word for EXIT, maybe you shouldn’t have bought that rather expensive international plane ticket. :)

    2. Neither of the methods are inherently superior to each other. However, in an international context it’s easier to do w/out words. Once I learn the green sign, I can apply it everywhere, be it China, German or Japan. The “EXIT” text is only useful in countries with Latin alphabet, which almost all have the added benefit of having a lot of Latin loanwords (exitus, in this case).

  26. I once set off the alarms at the treasury under the cathedral in Aachen, Germany, the one that was originally built by Charlemagne in the 800s. I thought that the green sign with the little guy going out was the way out, that it was the exit, not an emergency exit.

    I apologized profusely for being a stupid American. But it’s a good idea for Americans to know what that sign means.

    1. “I once set off the alarms at the treasury under the cathedral in Aachen, Germany, the one that was originally built by Charlemagne in the 800s. I thought that the green sign with the little guy going out was the way out, that it was the exit, not an emergency exit.”

      I would argue that the word “Exit” also isn’t very clear – in fact, if I saw the word “Exit”, I would assume it’s an exit, being an english speaker :)

      Some have pointed out that the red exit sign is meant to mean “emergency exit”, but then that doesn’t seem to be very standardised (eg the majority of new Exit signs are green??), and let’s not even start on colourblind people…

  27. I’ve never really liked pictographs.

    The problem is that a single word can convey a rather complex concept which can be VERY difficult to do in a picture. To make matters more frustrating, different people will often use different pictures for the same concept or use the same picture for different concepts.

    There’s nothing about this particular pictograph that says “exit” to me at first glance. Looking closer, I can see that the guy is halfway out the door, but on the other hand, “EXIT” is a perfectly clear English word that we all know and understand.

    “DIP AHEAD”
    “SPEED LIMIT: 55”
    “DO NOT FEED THE BEARS”
    I know very clearly what those signs are saying, but I’m often confused by the bad pictographs attempting to tell me where to go or what to (not) do. If you want to add a picture to the text, that’s great, but please put WORDS there, k?

    1. It’s like the Ikea instructions. They dance around using any words, and end up being indecipherable when the concept is any more complicated than “open box and sit on chair.” Try following the instructions for the legs to their kitchen cabinets. What a nightmare of bad design!

      Sometimes a word is the best option.

    2. I’m inclined to agree. The red color also indicates “not typical state” to me, which is what I want from a fire exit.

      Admittedly, I’m partial to a little running guy with flames behind him encouraging him out the door, that one’s pretty abundantly clear. Fire is a good stand-in for general danger in that case, as well!

  28. Of course, close watchers of “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” already know that the red EXIT will at least survive until the late 23rd century… as evidenced by the sign glimpsed through the door of the Kobayashi Maru simulator just after Admiral Kirk enters.

  29. Pictograms are awesome, every time I do laundry I have to google what those stupid care pix mean, I can’t wait until my safety depends on googling a pictogram during an emergency.

  30. Time and again I have pointed out to German architects, fire brigades and authorities that the customary label on German fire exit signs “Notausgang” could lead to dire catastrophe if e.g. a foreigner correctly understood “Ausgang” as “Exit” (after all, if they came by motorway they would have followed the “Ausfahrt” or “Exit” sign!) but not (! no pun intended) “Not” which in German means “need” in general and “emergency” in this particular instance. English speakers might read it as “NOT the exit” and get roasted!

  31. In case of emergency, RUN this way.

    Not so down with the running part. History shows that this often results in large piles of dead people at the exits.

  32. I actually watched a program on NHK World about two months ago about the creation of the green man and it’s acceptance as an international standard. A mind-boggling amount of thought and research went into the creation of the design. I think it’s interesting that many of the posters here say the man looks panicked, because the angle of his legs is supposed to show him exiting briskly and orderly, but not sprinting. I’m also pretty fond of the shadow coming off his leg, signifying him going out into the light and safety.

    I’m all for the little guy!

  33. I’d hate the have the green one near the screen in a movie theater. Why can’t we just have both? If pigeons are smart enough to recognize different people in photographs I think people might be smart enough to recognize two different formats of exit signs.

  34. As an American traveling in Europe for the first time, I also assumed those were regular exits rather than emergency exits. (I figured it out when I noticed the wiring for an alarm.) Probably if they were red instead of green it wouldn’t have been confusing, because I associate red with emergencies, not green.

  35. Due to the red exit sign being found nearly everywhere I went in my yound life it was the first work I learned to read. I have been learning new words ever since.

    Of the additive primary colors the human eye is most sensitive to green.

    Perhaps many green exit signs are in use in the USA because they are lit by tritium lights whose only practical color is green.

  36. I’m born and raised in the US. I work in a Las Vegas casino. People from all around the world come here every day.

    Signs with large arrows are easily understood by most people.

    Signs with allot of text are not easily understood – even by many Americans.

  37. In the United States, exit signs are not used only for emergency exits. They are also used to direct non-emergency traffic in highly traffic locations such as stores and public facilities that have dedicated doors for ingress and egress. They are also used to differentiate between doorways that provide egress to the outside of a building versus those that lead to another internal area.

    With that in mind, its difficult to see how the green running man is any improvement. Even if an individual cannot read or understand the word “Exit” they will be familiar enough with the letter formations from prior experience to know instinctively that it signifies a way out of a building. On the other hand, adoption of the green running man may just cause more trouble then its worth in the event of an actual emergency, if people are not familiar with it.

  38. How does a green sign look vs a red sign in a smoke filled environment? Rayleigh scattering would make green scatter more, and maybe not be visible from as far away.

    Just thinking out loud

  39. The language problem is even more fun for language pairs where the same word has different meanings. For instance, the German “NOT” (“emergency”) is liable to give pause to any Anglophone…

    You might know that “ausgang” means “exit”; but will you realise what “notausgang” means when you need it?

    1. @sabik Hehe, yes. I’m German and a programmer and when I spent some time in English (either virtually or for real), I tend to parse Things like “NOT” as !.

  40. I wasn’t thrilled when all the WALK/DON’T WALK pedestrian crossing signs in NYC got changed to the “man and the hand.”

    1. I don’t think signs tell you to walk any more, especially the audio ones for the blind. They just tell you the walk signal is on. Whether you deem it safe and actually walk or not is up to you.

  41. I’m all for international standardization, but running man icon I see shouts out to me: “Get Off Your Arse And Start Skanking!”

  42. I’ve always had a problem with the red colour of the emergency exit signs. The problem is that the signs are located upo near the ceiling for visibility, but that’s also where the smoke will be thickest. The result will most likely be a dim red glow through the smoke. The fire itself will tend to climb upwards and spread out along the ceiling, thus approaching a fire you will most likely see a dim red glow through the smoke.
    Are we teaching people to walk briskly towards the exit, or towards the fire?

  43. Since when are “Exit” signs red? I’ve never seen a red “Exit” sign in the U.S. – they are all green … right? I am sitting in a room with 3 green “Exit” signs right now. Two of them also have arrows indicating the direction of the exit. One, right over an exit door, has no arrow.

    Am I tripping, or is green a Seattle? West Coast? thing. ?

      1. > http://oxhouse.org/~brent/etc/exit/

        Wow, designers take note; that is an absolutely perfect example of an infographic that seems like it would be easy for anyone to understand, but is in fact very difficult for the colorblind to read.

        If you must use red and green, please also provide some other distinction as well.

    1. Exit signs can be red or green in the US.

      Over the past few years I’ve asked hundreds of people what color exit signs and they almost always answer red – even if they are in a building with only green signs. When I point this out, they are often shocked.

      Red just seems to stick in people’s minds.

  44. 1) On emergency exits there are also warnings that an alarm will sound. In the US these are red. Do international emergency exits confuse people by having both red (stop!) and green (go!) signs on emergency exits?

    2) Red lights are used by astronomers and photographers because they don’t destroy night vision. In many emergencies power is out and people are expected to navigate an unfamiliar building in the dark. Red signs might help them exit without stumbling over unknown obstacles and other patrons.

  45. I think the main difference is that the green ones are more visible in the dark because you have a bigger surface lit by a light (green and white). As I understand it, the EXIT sign only shows the red letters. Not great if there’s a fire.

    By the way, I just stumbled on a site with some other warning signs:
    http://lifeboat.com/ex/warning.signs.for.tomorrow

  46. While we’re getting all un-American contemplating international standards and such, I vote to replace the U.S. “walk” traffic sign with its Canadian counterpart. A comparison of the two can be found here. The U.S. walker looks to me like he is plodding along staring at the ground, worried about his kid’s tuition or the market or something. Clearly going to his dead end job with no health insurance. Canadian walker looks positively jaunty – upright, excited – with long, purposeful strides. A man (or woman) on the move.

  47. The reason to adopt the international standard is logical: We are part of the international community. If we resist the standard, Americans will continue to encounter ambiguity when we go abroad, and foreigners will continue to face possible confusion when here. If we adopt the standard, after Americans get used to it, both we and foreign vistors will recognize the same sign for the same purpose. It isn’t a matter of whether the “EXIT” sign is better – it’s a matter of which, in the long run, will do the most good.

    As for the metric system, the worst thing you can do is try to convert from one system to the other on paper, in your head, or using a calculator. Just start using metric. You’ll be surprised how quickly you get used to thinking in meters, kilometers, and centimeters. It won’t be: “uh, that’s about 6 inches, so it’s about (let’s see, 2.5 x 6 is uh) 15 centimeters.” You’ll just recognize that it’s about 15cm. Think of it as immersion conversion.

    1. That is the best argument for adopting the running man I’ve seen. I don’t think it is quite good enough, though. The running man solves a problem we don’t have: lots of languages, lots of international visitors. Reading goes straight to comprehension. Most pictograms do not.

      You are in a room. Emergency! Fire! Get out now. What I want is an exit. There is an EXIT sign. There is a sign with the running man. What the hell does that mean? Might mean the emergency exit, might mean something else, no time to think about it. I’ll take the EXIT. On a related note, why do the stop signs in France (last time I was there) read STOP?

      1. On a related note, why do the stop signs in France (last time I was there) read STOP?

        The world has basically adopted the US stop sign (created in Michigan in 1915). From Germany to South Korea, you’ll see the english word “Stop.” Some countries have translated it, but the shape, color, etc seems to remain more or less the same.

  48. When I was in Italy this summer, it took me a few days to realize the green running man meant “EXIT” and not “ELEVATOR”.

    1. @X99901 Why, that’s clearly the way to the women’s clothing departmant, as clearly indicated by the German word for “skirt”.

  49. Forget both–let’s mandate Esperanto as the only language allowed anywhere. Then the sign can just read:

    ELIR

    in a nice red and green checkerboard pattern and everyone can go back to sleep.

  50. Both designs are functional. Conforming with the international standard breaks the tie. Running man wins! Next: the metric strikes back!

  51. A RED exit sign OVER a doorway is a bad idea.

    Aside from the fact the smoke rises and will block a sign immediately but in a smoke filled hotel do you really want to be moving toward the red glow at the end of the hall ?

    Blue is the color of the spectrum that can best pierce smoke. Floor level is the place to be in a smoky area.

    Place blue exit signs at knee level as well as at exit doors.

    Rule of thumb: Head towards the blue, avoid red during a conflagration.

  52. I thought the red exit indicated a way out of the room while a green sign indicated a way out of the building. I have no information to base this on. I like the idea of a red door being alarmed and green being free access. Something tells me in the US red and green exits are interchangeable, and I’m thinking too much into the subject.

    looks like US colors don’t mean much:
    http://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=INTERPRETATIONS&p_id=18336
    http://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_id=17456&p_table=FEDERAL_REGISTER
    http://oxhouse.org/~brent/etc/exit/

  53. The color red is not universal to the EXIT sign. I think in most situations I actually see them, most commonly in movie theaters, they are Green.

  54. IMHO, words have one huge advantage. I can ask “Hey, what does the sign that says E-X-I-T mean?” VS “Hey, what does that sign with the man standing on one leg in a doorway while leaning mean?”. Or, better yet, the former is a lot easier to Google.

    Plus, Red == Emergency so Red “EXIT” means Emergency Exit. Green means OK, normal, so a green man means run through this door (crazy Europeans with their bizarre customs). Plus I have no idea where the door leads. In an emergency that’s very useful information. I’d rather not obey the green sign if there’s a tornado, but the red sign doesn’t try to tell me what to do.

  55. Isn’t this one of the first things you pick up in a foreign country — signs for exit & bathroom?

  56. I’ll admit to a preference to the red “EXIT” sign – but that’s because I’m used to it. The European “(|)” (circle with a bar) and such symbols – including the “universal” ON/OFF symbol – have always struck me as too clever by half.

    Otherwise, I’d rather the choice between red and green, et. al. be based on how easy it is to read (or find) in the WORST circumstances – a hot, smokey room with eyes smarting from the fumes. I’d also consider which is easier to read (or find) by people with the most common types of color blindness in the same kinds of circumstances.

    As an aside, the pictogram signage that bothers me the most are the ones directing people to a library (head-and-shoulders reading a book.) Most of the ones I’ve seen have been labeled “Library” as well – which is fine. But the ones without any text at all drive me nuts. Why would a functional illiterate want to know where the library was?

  57. It’s a question of standards. Not the moral sort.

    Symbiote @ #27 said, there are a set of EU standard colours for warning signs.

    soubriquet @ #79 points out the old UK fire extinguisher standard colours.

    I learned both of these on my first day at work during induction.

    I’d also like to point out that UK road signs are standardised as Triangle = Warning, cautioning you against a hazard. Whilst Round are compulsory/mandatory e.g. speed limit signs. Oblong/Rectangular are information/directional. Green background being main roads, Blue background being for Motorways.

    These are all standards I learned. Either through instruction or just being part of the culture.

    Because I first learned fire extinguishers are coloured according to use. I think that’s the best thing, but as the EU have changed the standard, I’m changing the information in my head (in the UK we’re still allowed a panel of the ‘old’ colours on our extinguishers)

    As it’s a safety thing I’d like to see it standardised across the world. Get on board America.

  58. It really doesn’t have to be an either/or solution – in my part of Canada most government buildings use both, the red exit sign with the green running man attached to the right.

  59. Is this really a problem? Can we identify any single person burnt alive while huddled next to a labelled exit because the poor person was illiterate or a non-English speaker?

    People here are advocating swapping what may be hundreds of millions or even billions of exit signs, throwing away the old signs and the packaging of the new signs. The sole advantage seems to be the idea that if nothing else, our signs would be consistent with the signs on a different continent. As if this had any amount of value.

  60. Why don’t we put a red exit sign above the door the green man is running out of and be done with it?

  61. I always appreciated good, clear, universally understandable signage when traveling in foreign countries. It said something progressive, efficient, inclusive and cosmopolitan about the local culture.

    I would expect that visitors to the USA rarely feel that same appreciation for America’s idiosyncratic, heavily-text-based signage.

    1. Well, in this case, the benefit would be mostly to Americans travelling outside the USA.

      If you stay in your country, it doesn’t make a difference how your signs look like.

      Non-Americans travelling to the US will in all likelihood understand the written “EXIT” sign, too.

      However, they will not necessarily up English signs at home.

      I consider the “Stop” sign to be an aberration and it would work as well w/out any text. If need, one could always put a palm facing outward in it. (Unless that’s a rude gesture in a larger natiion, but I’m not aware of one.)

  62. Being this late, I’ll probably close off the discussion as my own audience of one, but here’s another pointer to a standard (can’t have enough of them, I say) pictogram for (IMO) European emergency exits. It’s one the right end of this sign (found, I know, outside downtown Europe): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:VHHH_Jetbridge_Exitsign(2).jpg

    Now how many of you are confused about what the sign means?

  63. A couple of months ago I was installing a software package that had three infographics and no words to guide me. The first two I figured out were “install” and “help”, while the last was the green running man. My first thought was they were trying to tell me that the installation would take so long I might want to run to the bathroom now. (Sadly, that wasn’t a bad guess…)

  64. First time I travelled in Europe mainland at about 11 I saw the running man, and knew what it meant straight away.

    On the other hand apparently some signs in New York read ‘Fine for Parking’, turns out it isn’t fine to park there.

  65. Pictograms can be confusing. I drive several different types or cars or trucks at work and never am able to understand all of the items on the dashboard as the pictograms used are various and no written words are there anymore.

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