Friday, May 18, 2012

Signs of My Times

Sometimes it's OK not to break new ground with profound insight.  Sometimes it's OK to be silly.  With that in mind, I freely acknowledge that I am not the first person (or the first blogger) to notice that public signs and product directions are sometimes completely cuckoo.  I hope that more established signage critics can make room for one more humble voice in their club.

In my defense, I've been taking note of signage atrocities since way back before even the five members of Tesla started jamming acoustically.  Do you remember cloth towel dispensers?  Maybe not.  Here's what they look like:

These were once very popular at so-called "scary gas stations".  As a wee lad, I once noticed (probably in Kansas) that the directions affixed to a cloth dryer included the warning: "Caution: Failure to Use Properly May Lead to Serious Injury or Death."

As a reminder, here is an example of what said death machine looks like:

I remember thinking, "How?  No, seriously, how?"  It's been a while, but cloth towel dispensers struck me as one of the least dangerous inventions ever, right up there with calf-length socks and bread (unsliced).  Like, if someone presented one of those how-did-it-happen riddles, and said, "A man is dead in a room.  The room is completely empty except for a cloth towel dispenser.  How did he die?"  I would answer, "He can't really be dead.  There is no way for this situation to exist as you've described."

Is it possible that someone--anyone--truly believed that misusing this product could cause death?  If so, did they believe that a completely non-specific warning could save even a single life?

Of course, "misplaced altruistic passion" doesn't get signs put up all by itself; it needs help from "fear of legal liability."  This begs the question of why didn't the legal team include in their warning other, equally likely ramificantions of misusing this machine?  You know, something like, "Misusing this product could cause serious injury or death.  It could also be misinterpreted as a signal to a distant alien race waiting to hear back from their disguised-as-an-Earthling scout who was left with the directive 'use the cloth towel dispenser properly if they are a people of peace, use it improperly if they are a people of hostility and we should come and probe and/or destroy them.'  Equally likely, it could make hummingbirds grow to the size of blue whales and decide that they like eating humans more than sugar water.  Misuse of this product could also function as the breaking of the first seal, as mentioned in the book of Revelation.  Better dry quick, smart guy, because the four horseman of the apocolypse may be well on their way.  For the record, if any of this happens, it is on you, not us."

So, yes, I've been noticing odd signage for a while.  I can't help it.

In recent days, armed with a phone that takes pictures, I have documented a few more of these peculiar signs, which I dutifully present to you today:

1.  "Good" Use of Quotes.

I can think of about a dozen different ways to use a word processor to highlight a particular word within a sign.  I can only think of ONE way of highlighting a word that actually causes a reader to wonder, "In what way is that NOT what they are wanting to say?"  Of course, if the "new" management is really just the old management having turned over a new leaf, then I retract this entry and tip my cap to the all-too-rare CORRECT use of "quotes for emphasis" within a sign.

2.  Worst.  Advertising Expenditures.  Ever.

 Is it black Friday already?  Target, to their credit, seems to have realized that providing customers the opportunity to exchange forms of currency at an exact 1:1 ratio was not, as they say in the advertising business, "worth mentioning".  Because a few weeks later, there was this:

Nice try, Target, but no dice.  My rule is that if it's not more than .07% off the regular price, I don't even think of it as a sale.

3.  Passing the Buck.

Yes, the directions are a bit circular, but the confidence with which they are given more than makes up for it.

4.  Abbrev Sig.

Directly below the bright orange "FOR SALE" is the word "LAWNMOWER".  Below that, obscured by the shadows, are some other letters.  This ain't perfect, but is a little more clear:


I was about to totally go off on this sign, but in doing some research, I discovered that "The Lamor Sign" actually won several of this year's coveted "Signee Awards."  Here is the complete list of its wins:

MOST OVERSIZED LETTER: "The Lamor Sign" for its use of "A"
MOST NEGLECTED LETTER:  "The Lamor Sign" for its disuse of "W"
MOST UNNECESSARY SIGN: "LAMOR", for being written directly below "LAWNMOWER" and for labeling a piece of machinery that is readily identifiable to anyone who may be interested in buying it.
So hats off, Lamor sign!  Or, "HAOF" (if you know what I mean)!

5.  Consider Us Warned.

My camera crew was hungover when they snapped this, so I had to find another, clearer image from my sister site, Flickr.

Same sign at the one I saw, but on a different truck--BUT, also with
Missouri plates.  Uh, shout out to my home state, I guess.

OK, so I know that we're an obese society with historically poor impulse control.  I get that.  And maybe I'm forgetting that not everyone learned the rule, "If you ever find yourself with the end of a hose stuck in your mouth, about to siphon the contents of an oil tanker into your stomach:  Stop.  Count to ten in Greek.  Then go buy some French fries."  That was a good, helpful rule, and I shouldn't stand in judgment over people whose parents never instilled in them such sound advice.

Maybe the real problem with this sign can be best demonstrated with a Venn diagram:

In other words, this sign needs a picture.  Like this one that I found on the internet:

Do Not Eat

It would have to be tweaked, of course, but I'm just saying there are possibilities.  The message CAN be conveyed, even without words.

6.  I Thought Everyone Knew These Things.

If you gathered a team of school marms and TSA agents and said, "I'd like you to come up with a list of six rules that can govern the refills at the beverage station at McDonald's," I'm pretty sure they'd be like, "Six?  That seems kind of high.  Can we do three?"

Hey, what do you know?  There are six!  And the best news is that I can still cup my hands under soda tap while pressing the "PUSH" button with my forhead and slurp my carbonated nector the way God intended--since it isn't expressly forbidden by the sign.  Whew!

7.  What Do You Think This Is?

Yeah, so this is a travel pillow.  You've seen them.  They look like a cross between a horseshoe and a padded toilet seat.  But don't be fooled.  It's a pillow.  Not an inflatable pillow, mind you.  Just a pillow.  What really makes this pillow different from other pillows is that this one is not a lifesaving device.

If the rest of you can bear with me, I'd like to close out this post by taking a moment to directly address pillow label makers in a constructive manner:

Pillow label makers, I appreciate the heads up that this pillow is not made to be a "lifesaving device" and should generally not be treated as one.  But what would you think of adding, "ON THE OTHER HAND, IF IT EVEN CROSSES YOUR MIND TO USE THIS AS A LIFESAVING DEVICE, YOU'RE PROBABLY IN A PRETTY DIRE SITUATION, AND YOU MAY AS WELL GO FOR IT."

That's just a little thing, though.  What I do take exception to, though, is your characterization of this pillow as a "device"--period.

See, when I say, "Honey, can you hand me that device, or is it in use?" I may be talking about an iPod, or a coffee grinder, or maybe a wheat combine.  But not so much a pillow.  That would be weird.

Also, I'm not sure under what conditions this "device" could be characterized as "in use" in such a way that would cause me to think it would be OK to leave my child unattended.  Don't I put it around my neck?  If I left my child, wouldn't this device leave with me (being around my neck and all)?  Does wearing a travel pillow sometimes instill in people a false sense of confidence in their child's ability to get along without being attended to?

Surely you're not meaning "in use" as "wrapped around a child's neck", right?  Even if that child was attended to?  OK, maybe that is what you're saying.  I mean, if I'm attending to my child, what could go wrong, right?  But--assuming my child is at such an age that he or she needs attending to--isn't that advice about not leaving my child unattended while this device is "in use" a good rule of thumb anyway, even if I haven't just wrapped a pillow around his or her neck?  Maybe you could change the last part to "FINALLY, LET'S FORGET ABOUT THE PILLOW FOR A MOMENT.  JUST DON'T LEAVE YOUR CHILDREN UNATTENDED, OK?  THAT'S A FREEBIE.  YOU'RE WELCOME."

Otherwise, the directions look great.  Good font, good color.  Keep up the good work.

You're welcome.


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