• Signs, Everywhere a sign

    1 April 2015


    Done poorly, signage is little more than visual graffiti, decorations hanging in front of our eyeballs.

    For those with sound vision and who are able to lift their gaze from their mobile phones, we are constantly being aided, advised, directed, restricted, and prohibited by signage in all shapes and forms, with or without lighting, with or without pictograms.

    In the hands of experts, signs are a science. Unfortunately not everyone pays attention to getting it right.


    The classical study of signs and symbols is semiotics, derived from a Greek phrase meaning “observant of signs”. It’s part philosophy, social science, and life sciences – including ergonomics – wrapped into one. In architecture and construction, a whole discipline has emerged to direct and inform pedestrian traffic. It’s called wayfinding.

    Pioneers in this modern application of semiotics include Paul Mijksenaar, who founded the agency that bears his name in 1986. The agency specialises in the design of visual orientation, navigation, and information systems. The most famous expression of his work was Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport. It was adapted in New York and New Jersey and has become a default for signage that is statutory, informative and that keeps us safe.

    When leaders such as Mijksenaar or typography designer Kontrapunkt, with its offices in Copenhagen and Osaka, aren’t on the job, signage can sometimes confuse or contradict.


    Words and images can be misunderstood, and interesting words or grammar may not translate well but potentially have an unintended humorous bent. Here are some examples.




    The 280-meter-tall Lumina Shanghai, developed by Henderson Land Group and designed by Gensler, is the tallest skyscraper in the Xuhui Riverside District.

    A sophisticated yet modern setting was derived by juxtaposition of Indochine-Vietnamese features and wood-fire inspired material palettes. Re-interpretation of the spatial order of a typical Indochine-Vietnamese mansion has been adopted to give hierarchy, layers and details to the space.


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