Over at Slate, in her epic six-part series on wayfinding, deputy editor Julia Turner explains the exit sign: designed to stand out, but ignored by designers–at least in the U.S.–for 75 years. In America, we have the commanding, red EXIT, standardized in the ’30s and ’40s. But most everywhere else, it’s the ISO standard: a green man bounding out the door, developed in the late ’70s by the Japanese designer Yukio Ota. It’s called, unsurprisingly, the running man, and its advocates say it’s more legible (wordless and green, not red, which means “stop” not “run away”). But still we stick with the red letters. Why?
Well, mainly because we couldn’t think of anything better, Turner says. The only alternative she cites was developed for the AIGA’s symbol set for DOT (right) but it never caught on, for obvious reasons. Still, there might be hope. In his new pictograph system for MTA, being tested at the Jamaica station, Mies Hora is splitting the difference, using a green-lettered EXIT and the running man. Maybe it’ll wean us off the red menace altogether.
(By the way, hear Turner talk about the graphic design horror that is Penn Station on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show. It’s not the designers’ fault–it’s bureaucracy. The three owners of Penn Station just can’t get their act together to unify the wayfinding system. You can see a nice, if overly dramatic, slideshow of getting lost in Penn Station at the Slate article here.)