The Language of Signs

Part five in a Slate series on signage around the world looks at the history of the green “running man” emergency exit sign and its ‘battle’ with the American red EXIT sign.

We are told how the ISO-accepted emergency exit sign is Yukio Ota’s running man, adopted in the late 1970s. Interesting are Ota’s thoughts on pictograms and their function in society on discovering that the two signs competing for ISO adoption (his and one by a Soviet designer) were remarkably similar:

Ota, like many designers of pictograms, is a bit of a romantic about the power of symbolic communication. The first real innovator in the field was Otto Neurath, who developed ISOTYPE, a system of pictograms intended to help workers between the world wars relate to Europe’s increasingly industrial economy. […] Like Neurath, Ota believes that through graphical icons, we can transcend our cultural and linguistic differences and speak to one another as global citizens. […]

The running man is thus the child of both rigorous science and starry-eyed utopianism, and it’s now in use all over the globe.

Note: The complete set of 50 “passenger/pedestrian symbols” from the AIGI have recently been released to the public and are available for free.

via @zambonini