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  • You've probably all seen an exit sign before and have a pretty good idea of what one looks like, but how an exit sign looks differs depending on where you live.

  • However, there is one design that most designers agree is the best and most effective.

  • That's the ISO graphic symbol for emergency exits, designed by Japanese graphic designer Yukio Ota.

  • Well, I should say, most of us outside of the US agree that it's the best.

  • If you live in the US, or maybe elsewhere, you may be skeptical, but I'm here to try to convince you otherwise.

  • In the late 1970s, a Japanese fire safety association held a contest for a new national exit sign design.

  • Entries underwent extensive user testing to evaluate their effectiveness in smokey environments.

  • The winner, among over 3,000 entries, was Yukio Ota's design.

  • Ota's primary design philosophy is to create universal symbols that transcend language barriers.

  • That vision, at least for this particular design, was realized in 1985 when ISO, the International Organization for Standardization, adopted the Japanese exit sign as a part of their standards for safety signs.

  • ISO was founded in 1947 to unify standards across nations and better facilitate international trade.

  • There are ISO standards for just about everything, from the classifications of shipping containers to standards for brewing tea.

  • Ota's design is now used all over the world.

  • Certain regions sometimes use a variation it, but essentially, the green and white running figure can be found everywhere from China to Czech Republic to France and to Canada.

  • So, why is this a good design?

  • Well, first, it's doesn't require you to know the language the sign happens to be in.

  • Our world is becoming increasingly globalized.

  • I live in a city with a pretty large immigrant population who aren't all fluent in English.

  • But maybe you think, "If someone is moving to a new country, they should learn basic words like 'exit".”

  • Okay, yes, probably.

  • But what about tourists, young children, and people with reading-related disabilities?

  • Overall, a pictogram-based sign is just more accessible.

  • But why is this particular design better than other pictogram based signs?

  • Well, because it's a simple design, but it communicates a lot.

  • The figure appears to be running out of a doorway, but running steadily and calmly as opposed to sprinting and rushing.

  • Because, in an emergency, you want people to move swiftly, but without panicking.

  • According to Ota, they finessed the design back and forth 58 times before settling on the final design.

  • As designers, we're often accused of squabbling over seemingly tiny details.

  • Yeah, I'll admit, some of us are probably a little crazy.

  • But it's mostly because these details matter.

  • It's our job is to communicate design intent to the end user in the most simple and direct way.

  • And, in this particular context of developing an international design for emergency situations, no small detail should be overlooked.

  • Lastly, there is the debate about color.

  • A key aspect of good design is providing users with consistent expectations.

  • Most exit signs in the US and Canada are red.

  • However, red is usually used to represent concepts like "Danger", "Stop", and "Do Not Enter".

  • So, it's kind of inconsistent to also use red to represent "Go that way; it's safe".

  • I live in Canada where traditional exit signs are the red EXIT or SORTIE signs.

  • But, in 2010, the National Building Code finally adopted the ISO exit design.

  • It is now mandatory in new buildings or buildings undergoing extensive renovation.

  • So, why doesn't the US adopt the ISO sign?

  • Well, it's hard to say.

  • Maybe it's because the US is a lot more monolingual than countries in Europe and Asia.

  • And maybe that's why Canada eventually caught on, since we have two official languages.

  • I don't really know.

  • If you live in the US, leave a comment.

  • And maybe you live in a place where the exit sign looks different than any of the one I've shown.

  • I'd love to see them; let me know in the comments below.

  • Speaking of Canada and fire emergencies, did you know the Canadian government deliberately burned down a village in 1958?

  • To learn more about that, why don't we head over to Tom Scott's channel...

  • Hi!

  • ... where he dies.

  • I'm fine. I'm fine.

  • Slippy down there.

You've probably all seen an exit sign before and have a pretty good idea of what one looks like, but how an exit sign looks differs depending on where you live.

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A Brief History of the Exit Sign | ARTiculations

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    Elise Chuang posted on 2022/04/22
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