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.