Posted by Michel on 05.07.2011

This links to the site of the renewed Desktop, Australia’s most read monthly design culture magazine. I was interviewed for their first issue showing the new magazine design. The feature article in that issue was about signage. As usual, we were asked to say something about signage and as usual, I explained that we as wayshowing strategists “don’t do signage”:

“………..Speaking of good maps, Michel Verheem is something of an expert. Since 2006, he has been running ID/Lab, a specialist wayfinding company that focuses on creating legible environments instead of just legible signs. “I am not a designer,” he insists. “For us, the first thing is that a sign needs to work and then we’ll make it pretty. We’ll quite happily make something really ugly that works really well, where most designers focus on beauty.”

For Verheem, the beauty is in the legibility and usability.  “We really focus on the science of how people navigate, how they behave when they navigate, what needs to be changed or added to an environment to make their behaviour fit organisational requirements.”

Considering Verheem is an expert on wayfinding, he should be a great person to ask about the idea of a visually overloaded existence and if he thinks textual signs risk overtaking the more stable architectural intentions of many built environments. “One of the major problems is that too much information is being put into our space,” says Verheem. “The comparison can be if you buy a new piece of equipment with a 500-page manual with no index, you’ll eventually get through it and work the machine if you are extremely smart and patient. But if you get a 25-page manual with highlights, then you’ll be working that machine in half an hour. You can apply that idea to the visual pollution of an urban space or an airport or a hospital. If the information you provide is not specific to the problem you want to solve as a navigator, then it is pollution.”

So what does he think should be done to clean up the pollution? Well, he doesn’t profess to have all the solutions, but one simple step in the right direction would be to get rid of some of those pesky ‘keep left’ signs. Until Verheem explains this to me, I’ve never really thought about how pointless and borderline dangerous ‘keep left’ signs really are.  “Why do I have to have a sign every two and a half kilometres, which says ‘stay to the left unless overtaking’?” he asks. “You could presume that if I have a driver’s licence, then I know to stick to the left. The rest of that information then becomes a waste of space. It is something that I as a driver have to focus on, read, process then decide that I already know it. It’s not going to change our behaviour in any way.” Amen to that………”