Duplicate Signs

Do you ever notice how sometimes people will pile signs one on top of the other, even though they are all saying basically the same thing? I see this all over the place and I’m always struck by it. Why do people do it? Do they think that having the same sign several times will make people more likely to follow its directive?

There’s usually an underlying problem being addressed by redundant signage - perhaps the first one was too small or not visible enough, or it didn’t say exactly the right thing, or experience after it was put up showed that more detail is needed. Often there is an official, professionally-made sign that proved inadequate and has been supplemented in ad-hoc ways with hand-made signs.

In general I find redundant signs fall into several categories:

  • Duplicate: Where one signs duplicates the message of another, perhaps just by literally being a second copy of the first sign, or being a different version with the exact same message
  • Additive: Where one sign adds nuance or clarification to another
  • Opposing: Where two signs say different things about the same thing

I try to photograph redundant signs whenever I see them and I’ll post the better ones here. Here’s an example to get things rolling, taken at the Montgomery Street BART station in San Francisco (BART is SF’s subway). BART is rife with ad-hoc signage amusement which is a typical outcome of a top-down oriented organization where the staff are constantly having to compensate in their own way for planning inadequacies. Whereas the London Underground uses one font and one signage style for absolutely everything that appears in any station or train, BART is the complete opposite. There is no consistency to anything and the whole thing is a visual jumbled mess.

This elevator control is a perfect example. It is a panel about 2’x3’ mounted to the right of the elevator doors:

There are two things going on here: a button to call the elevator (on the left adjacent to the door), and a button to call the station agent in case of an emergency. (Why they are so visually and in fact physically connected is unclear - are there an especially large number of emergencies outside the elevator? Or perhaps it’s because the BART elevators constantly break down and someone in a wheelchair can be stuck?) Obviously people kept pushing the Agent button when all they wanted was the Elevator button.

Like so many things in BART this assemblage of controls doing very ordinary functions is custom made for no apparent reason. And the design with the white panel behind the Agent button visually overpowers the Elevator button, which blends against its background, and people must just reach for that without looking at the label (form and color cues will outgun labels every day of the week).

Frustrated station agents undoubted fed up with responding to false alarms must have attached the can’t-miss flourescent sign. Unfortunately it has the effect of emphasizing the Agent button even more and making the Elevator button even less obvious!

Ironically, this whole panel is a redesign of the original that had been in place for years. In the earlier design the two buttons looked identical and were housed together on a single panel, but the Station Agent button was to the left (so closest to the elevator itself) and the Elevator Call button was to the right. I did a double take any time I tried to use it (to carry me + my bike up). So obviously this redesign was intended to address this problem but actually made it worse. Ah, progress.