Warning, Warning! Danger, Will Robinson!

At one of my favourite sites, Infosthetics (see my blogroll), they note that the UN has come up with a new Warning Sign for Radiation. Here it is:

New Radioactive Warning Sign

According to the report, this symbol is…

the result of a 5-year project conducted in 11 countries around the world. the new symbol, developed by human factor experts, graphic artists, & radiation protection experts, was tested on a total of 1,650 individuals in Brazil, Mexico, Morocco, Kenya, Saudi Arabia, China, India, Thailand, Poland, Ukraine & the United States to ensure that its message of “danger – stay away” was crystal clear & understood by all.

It’s interesting to note that this symbol follows a bunch of the ‘rules’ of UI design regarding warnings:

  1. It’s red. Red is the colour of blood and is often associated with danger. This is the reason that I am always upset by web sites (like Webnames.ca) who decided that their link colour should be red to match their colour scheme. Red should almost never be the colour for your links, people! I’d even go so far as to say that red should be reserved in most UIs for only warnings or errors.
  2. It uses a triangle shape, which is frequently used in warning signs because of the sharpness of the angles, connoting danger or at the very least, unpleasantness (if you got poked with it)
  3. Unlike the old Radiation symbol (which is the three-sided symbol at the apex of the 3 figures within the sign), it has a verb in it! The arrow with the person running, which looks very much like an imperative ‘Go!’
  4. It has some scary looking lines that show the radiation. Although this is not a rule per se, it does illustrate some activity, which is a good example of how an invisible force like radiation can be portrayed.
  5. It shows the Death symbol, (skull and crossbones), though this could be misread as ‘Radiation can cause Pirates and make you lose your left foot’ if you wanted to be thickheaded/silly about it. (For a whole series of misreadings of IKEA warnings for comic effect, my friend Matt made up a whole slew of hysterical examples ).

I’m glad that they tested the symbol in countries like Brazil, Mexico, Morocco, Kenya, and Saudi Arabia, etc.. So often ‘Universal’ signs or icons don’t take into account differences in other cultures. I remember some years back something about Men’s and Women’s room signs not working well in countries where pants vs. dresses or skirts were not necessarily the sole marker of secondary sex characteristics. Who knows, maybe some Kilt-wearers in Edinburgh had to think for a minute.

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