Alden’s ITP Home

Sign Research

I started out my sign research scouting by going to the Rob Rauschenberg show at MoMA. Rauschenberg makes copious use of street signage, here are a couple of examples:


Decontextualizing signs makes them jarring, bringing them much more to the forefront of our consciousness than they occupy in their usual streetside homes.

(*\* if you are reading this it means that my webhost is terrible and will not let me upload a picture of Hans Deli’s sign I took – what I have to say about it is that it is simple, effective, and purposeful **)


I’ve noticed that my neighborhood in Chinatown has many many businesses with millennial pink neon sign, all of which cater to the Lower East Side “culturally conscious class” of fashion and art workers. Why is pink neon in vogue? Is it to assert a difference from the mostly Chinese businesses around? Is it Instagrammable? Net art seemed obsessed with pink and blue neon hues a few years ago, a lot of contemporary art makes use of those colors right now too. A couple of years ago I went to an art show in LA that presented utopia as a world of seven foot office plants and pink neon signs. I don’t have any answers here, only questions.

I know this isn’t a sign but I really hate this ad, it screams EW to me. I think the subtle difference in colors – I know I know they are constrained by the United color scheme – and the weak metaphor (I get it, Newark is close to New York but EWR isn’t actually¬†in New York even it the letters are) really do not make it clear what the message is. Walking past quickly I would not understand or make the time to read the bottom text.


This is the sign I hate the most in New York and it is ubiquitous. “Push bar for emergency exit. Alarm will sound.” Fake news. An outright lie. As you can see in the picture the door is clearly open but I guarantee you no alarm was sounding. I realize that the sign used to have meaning, that they disabled the alarms about three years ago. But why not remove the signs?

The alarms were disabled specifically because subway riders kept using the gates to leave out of simple convenience, setting off the alarm each time, cutting a kind of aural desire path. As an act of recognition that these exits were useful to and already being used by people with strollers, people trying to avoid rush hour turnstile traffic, or people who simply did not feel like walking a bit further, they removed the alarms but kept the signs. If these exists are no longer for emergencies only why keep signs indicating that they are? To dissuade the conscientious and rule-abiding citizenry from using a more convenient option? To avoid the expense of removing them?

An obvious design intervention is to remove the bottom sign text altogether, and only leave the top “EMERGENCY EXIT”. Perhaps remove “EMERGENCY” as well to convey the simplest possible information. Beyond that things start to get sticky, we talked about in class and then I read a bit more about pictographic exit signs and the battle of international standards, and I now side with the pictographic internationalists, ie the proponents of the “little green man”.