NO NO Signs


As the “norm” was freedom to smoke, it follows that there would be special areas set aside for non-smokers and areas where smoking was not allowed for all sorts of other very good reasons.

Signs were put up to notify the general public of such no-smoking areas. These signs increased in number over the years as no-smoking areas multiplied, perhaps becoming the most common sign in the world. I used to see it on every single window of the bus and train, then it began to appear in cars and taxis. It was everywhere! I always thought the smoke coming from the lit end — with a portion of ash evident — actually looked like the smoke was coming from the filter end!

[Picture of a no-smoking sign]There were other versions of NO SMOKING signs, some better and some worse.  I preferred the one where the entire cigarette (or cigar) was black, to my mind it was clear that the end with the smoke was the end with the ash and fire!

Now, of course, the world has changed, and the situation has completely reversed.  Instead of the norm being SMOKING, the norm is NO SMOKING. It follows that instead of a designated area for NON SMOKING, there ought to be designated areas for SMOKING.  Areas where smoking is allowed.

The first point to be made is that the default position is NO SMOKING, then there is no longer any need to have NO SMOKING signs.  All of these signs should be completely removed at last — we should NEVER SEE THEM AGAIN.

The problem is how to designate SMOKING AREAS?  We need a sign that means THAT IT IS OK TO SMOKE.

[Picture of the Ghostbusters Logo]This is a problem.

You see, the NO-SMOKING sign is a victim of its own success.  Because it was so common, the format  became the norm. To indicate a rule, law or instruction, we need a RED CIRCLE.  To show that something is NOT ALLOWED or FORBIDDEN, it needs to be CROSSED OUT using a red diagonal line.

[Picture of No Dog Fouling Sign]Sometimes — when it is difficult or impossible to think of a suitable picture for a banned activity, the “empty” red circle with diagonal would be enough.   The NO DOG FOULING sign is such an example.  The sign is aimed at dog-owners, rather than the dogs themselves (in this respect the NO DOG FOULING sign is unusual), on the one hand, we are spared a symbolic dog symbolically fouling.

The trouble with using forbidden signs is that we have to ask what is the default position — what is the “norm”. As far as dog fouling is concerned, having a NO DOG FOULING sign implies that dog fouling is allowed elsewhere — when it is in fact not.

The problem is the same as with smoking; the default is that it is outlawed, so we need a sign that designates an area where the activity is allowed — and possibly even encouraged.

We need a sign that says that smoking is OK, and we need a sign that says it is OK for your dog to take a dump.

If we simply remove the red diagonal we would get a smoky cigarette picture — would that be obvious as a smoking allowed sign? Then what would we have for dog fouling?

It is complicated, isn’t it?

[Picture of Australian No Cycling sign]

In Australia and New Zealand, I am led to believe, the sign for NO CYCLING is in the red circle with a diagonal format — so it seems obvious what it means.  However, here in the UK, the sign for NO CYCLING is this:

[Picture of UK NO CYCLING sign]

Also, in the UK, the sign for a cycle route (or a cycle allowed) is this:

 [Picture of Cycle Only sign UK]

Yes, it is complicated. Another weird UK traffic sign is NO PARKING. You might be forgiven for thinking that NO PARKING looks like this:

[Picture of fake NO parking sign]

This is a fake no parking sign, knocked-up in photoshop to make my point. The fact is that in the UK, no waiting and no stopping or parking looks like this:

[Picture of NO WAITING]  [Picture of NO WAITING/ PARKING]

Thank goodness parking is the default norm position! Things are getting worse when people don’t know legal signs from faked ones based on a 1970s NO SMOKING campaign, and things are getting worse when  signs, such as NO SMOKING and NO DOG FOULING, are used when they ought to be consigned to the history books. The world is ugly enough without unnecessary clutter like these — it all adds to information overload too!

3 Responses to “NO NO Signs”

  1. Gaynor Says:

    I think This is the best thing I have ever seen on the internet. It has changed my life becaise I think about things that I used to take for granted.
    I LOVE this site

  2. Lemmy Says:

    Takes a bit of reading, but it is worth it.

  3. deb Says:

    love it!

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