Designing The Stop Sign and Cracking the Code

Designing the Stop Sign used to be a video I’d send to designer friends and colleagues to cheer them up.

Sometimes I would notice that they were having a bad day. Maybe I caught them updating their resumes at their desks. Typically, I would send this video after meetings to tacitly apologize for a client briefing that meandered into the kind of obscurity that one might experience from a piece of incomprehensible philosophical text or particularly dense journal article.

After a few weeks immersed in the world of a Professional Communication graduate program, I think I understand this video on a deeper level now.

First, I considered the semiotic implications of this video. Has, in fact, the organization designing the stop sign created a communication sign or symbol that is infused with the requisite meaning so as to be immediately understood by the target market of HVMs (Home Vehicle Managers)? I hasten to add here that HVMs are 50% female and there’s a “secondary audience” of 50% men. Cough.

What might John Durham Peters, author of the Spiritualist Tradition, say about the communication disconnect between the clients, the designer, and the abyssal gap in understanding their audience? What might Augustine say about the resultant symbol that emerges from their altogether “imperfect” communication? To quote Augustine as cited by John Durham Peters: “There is nothing that can be learned by means of signs.” This video proves that true.

And alas, angels these clients are not.

Now I must consider, deeply, the organization driving these players and conversely these ‘clients’ driving forward their idea of the will of  “higher management” and the existence of their organization as a whole. What might Bruno Latour, author of ‘What’s the Story? Organizing as a Mode of Existence‘ say about these client “playwrights and actors” within and oblivious of their organization’s larger functioning, imperfectly trying to do their organization’s will.

To use Latour’s words … this is truly a “whole moving assemblage of disconnected parts” indeed.

We see truth in the words of Pam Schenk, author of Inspiration and Ideation: Drawing in a Digital Age, as the hapless designer draws by hand a vastly superior version of the stop sign before it is crowded with partner logos and the smiling faces of female (and male) HVMs.

This pitable designer is a “conjurer” solving “wicked problems”, to quote Vilém Flusser, author of On the Word ‘Design’: An Etymological Essay. Unfortunately, this “conjurer” is crushed under the wheels of the great corporate machinery. 

What dark psychic nightmares might Julie Moszkowicz, author of Gestalt Graphic Design: An Exploration of the Humanistic and Therapeutic Effects of Visual Organization, be plunged into seeing this video? This ghastly blue/pink stop sign crowded with partner logos and text would be unbearable to one who seeks order. There is no soothing negative space, no organization in the chaos of this communication of visual ideas. In this case “seeing is (not) a process of ordering” a total reversal of the spirit of Gestalt Moszkowicz details.

All this to say, I’m understanding a lot of things on a deeper level. Thanks for helping me “crack the code.”

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