I’ve been thinking about examples where pictures and text are traditionally put together for ease of understanding. This is particularly the case with signs. I’ve collected a few for my artefact. In this slideshow a sign without text will be followed by the complete sign with text. Please compare the examples. Does the image “need” the text? Is the image more obvious without text? Would the text alone be more effective?

I do apologise for the poor quality of some of the photos.

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12 comments

  1. jen October 16th, 2009 8:46 am Reply
    #1

    lol – thanks Sibylle – more to say later, but I thought the third to last sign was ‘do not eat lychees’. A position I fully support, by the way!

  2. silvanad October 16th, 2009 9:14 am Reply
    #2

    Very interesting idea, Sibylle. Some of the signs were already familiar so I knew what they were from the image but the real test were the signs that I were not familiar with! I had no idea what ‘do not smoke while walking’ was from the image; and the person sitting on the step reminded me a bit of Rodin’s ‘The Thinker’ so I thought – what, ‘no thinking here’. Nice artefact!

  3. andym October 16th, 2009 10:00 am Reply
    #3

    I think this is a nice idea for an artefact because it draws upon what society has been using as visuals for some time. In answer to your question – is text necessary? – well it would appear yes and no. eg. I thought children playing and no sitting on stairs were obvious but the no smoking whilst walking has a far too friendly looking fag. If I’m saying yes and no does that mean I’m inferring the quality of visuals needs quantifying. How do we therefore determine what is obvious or obscure?

  4. sibyller October 16th, 2009 10:32 am Reply
    #4

    Thanks for your comments. Yes, I think there is definitely a differende between familiar and unfamiliar signs. The ones we see everyday have taken on a meaning of their own, so they don’t need the text any more. The picture is like a cue, as in more abstract road signs (”give way” etc). The less familiar ones need the text more. I also thought the “no smoking while walking” was an interesting one. Quite friendly, as you say, Andy. Maybe we’re not so used to friendly signs as prohibition signs. Must be cultural…

  5. Sarah Payne October 16th, 2009 8:46 pm Reply
    #5

    @silvanad
    I thought the guy was sitting on the toilet! goes to show how images can be missinterpreted! Nice Artefact!

  6. tracy October 17th, 2009 10:08 am Reply
    #6

    Our signs are very “do not” / “danger” orientated aren’t they? designed to limit experience rather than enhance it. They are less evident in Thailand where children playing with knives is considered a learning experience, and helmets are something you wear when there are police around but otherwise keep in your basket. We had an EO&D meeting at my office the other day and our HR manager said we had to put signs up saying that we are an EO&D organisation. I asked if we could become one first – I have been campaigning for our literature to be translated into the local minority languages (Karenni, Burmese etc.) as well as Thai. She said we could discuss that in another meeting, but the point of this meeting was to discuss the signs. Made me lol.

  7. alip October 17th, 2009 3:51 pm Reply
    #7

    Nice artefact Sibylle! Your signs and the un/necessary text made me think about when I flew back from Poland earlier this year. We’d endured a train journey from hell as part of the journey back and so many things in Poland existed quite happily without signage, despite the barricades we’d have around them in the UK. One of the first things we saw when we got back into the terminal building in Bristol and were about to go down some stairs was a bright yellow cone at the top of the stairs (complete with a flashing light on the top) playing a recorded message warning us about the stairs….

  8. jen October 17th, 2009 6:03 pm Reply
    #8

    Sibylle, your artefact reminded me of the really great Facebook group “Signs That Fascinate and Intrigue” http://www.facebook.com/home.php#/photo_search.php?oid=2423853472&view=all

    I could look at those things all day. There is something both wonderful and strange about how people communicate in that mode. Thanks for this film!

  9. billb October 18th, 2009 7:08 am Reply
    #9

    Your artefact was very effective, Sibylle, as evidenced by the number of comments! Using both text and images in signs, especially in “danger” signs as Tracy pointed out, has to do with communicating a message to a multilingual public. A text message usually conveys a precise message only if a) it is well written and b) the target reader understands the language it’s been written in. Images, on the other hand are easier to understand across cultures that bear a lot of similarities but notoriously misleading across cultures that share few common characteristics (see: http://www.funnychill.com/media/414/Weird_Japanese_Signs/ for a classic example).

    Having said all this, Boeing, the commercial airplanes company, created a service manual for its jets that is completely devoid of text. Since certain maintenance checks have to be performed at every stop all over the world, Boeing thought images would work better cross-culturally. It’s either that or they just didn’t want to pay for the manual to be translated to several languages!

  10. Sarah Payne October 18th, 2009 12:34 pm Reply
    #10

    The fact that some of these symbols where not immediately obvious reminded me of an article I read years ago (and I cant remember where) about a government group put togther to discuss how to warn future humans about buried toxic waste which can have a dangerous life of hundreds of thousands or even millions of years. They were talking about communicating so far into the future where language would be completely different and with all knowledge of what symbols currently mean could be lost. How do you communicate with someone where it is possible that you will have no common terms of reference and where current symbols have no meaning when we cant understand some of these today?

  11. Nicola Osborne October 18th, 2009 5:27 pm Reply
    #11

    I thought this was a really fun artifact Sibylle – I was given a book of weird signs some time back and it is definitely interesting to see what does/does not make sense without text. Bill’s comment about Boeing is interesting as I think the air industry has some of the most globally recognized signage precisely because the same spaces and ideas are being mediated by the same operators all over the world.

    There was a fascinating programme on the history of motorway signage some time ago on Radio 4 (geeky listening par excellence) and it was interesting to hear that the same style of signage that had evolved with the introduction of motorways had had wide (but not universal) adoption in other countries. The visual is always cultural and I think what is interesting is that text is, in a way, providing it’s own metadata and warning label by which language and script it has been written in. If you understand how to read the text the odds are that you will have some sort of cultural understanding of what it discusses. Images can be universally accessed (by the sighted) and that brings problems of interpretation and local meaning since there is no barrier to entering or experiencing the object that would bring some sort of cultural understanding. Sometimes physical context will fill in the blanks but often it will not.

    The visual vs. language was really interestingly mediated at the beginning of the history of cinema. Silent films were universal – you could see the images without any knowledge of their original language and intertitle cards were not the primary communication method and could be easily substituted. As soon as the talkie emerged cinematic production changed significantly. French and German work became less prominent, national cinemas took very different routes and the UK and US entered into a complex trade relationship which continues today with both sharing a language but both often making films primarily for their internal market and the cultural and social norms of that market. Canadian, Australian and New Zealand films export well to other English speaking countries but are primarily made for internal markets. Asian cinema has been noticeably mainstreamed only when films are partly in English (or wholly remade in English) or comply with western cinematic norms. When cinema was silent themes were more universal – love, conflict, novelty etc. As language pushed films into being localized cultural objects their transferability diminished. As the web filters languages to those most spoken/populous on the web we will, I think, we will increasingly find a small number of mainstream entertainment and business languages and related cultures emerging.

  12. lesleyf October 21st, 2009 4:25 pm Reply
    #12

    Hi Sybille, I think the video highlights situations when the written word is absolutely essential – really hits the spot for me.

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