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L.A. Turns To Rogue Designer To Fix Its Confusing Parking Signs

A guerilla mission to fix incomprehensible parking signs is going from concept to reality.

When designer Nikki Sylianteng created her humorous website To Park Or Not To Park, inspired by the absurdity of parking signs in cities like Los Angeles, she probably didn’t foresee fixing the broken system herself. But after referencing her designs in a recent city council meeting, L.A. officials plan to experiment with new designs in the real world.

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News of the pending parking sign experiment was first mentioned by the Los Angeles Times, but Sylianteng has told Co.Design that members of L.A.’s City Council have reached out to her regarding her designs.


Originally created for a grad school project which gained notoriety after Sylianteng posted them in various NYC neighborhoods, the signs feature a parking schedule on which blocks of green and red indicate when, and for how long, parking is legal in a given spot. They are intended to function as a “two step process” for drivers, with days of the week on one axis and time of day on the other. Exactly where the test will take place in has yet to be determined, but council suggestions included Hollywood and Downtown L.A., where signs can be very confusing.

Sylianteng told Co.Design she didn’t approach the City Council about her designs; instead, they came to her. Policy Director Matthew Hale saw her work online and sent her an email, writing he “was impressed with [my designs] and he was interested in putting [them] into a motion.” As a result, Sylianteng may have her designs enshrined into government policy without actually dealing with the labyrinth of bureaucracy herself.

Sylianteng believes the problem with municipal design, like parking signs, is a lack of consideration for user experience. The government doesn’t attempt to understand the “actual experience of someone using it,” she says, which can lead to stacks of signs 15 feet high, explaining every possible detail about the spot to bewildered drivers. “The signs I’ve done are not a direct translation. I’m making executive decisions about what rules I show and which I don’t,” Sylianteng said. “If something says ‘Street Cleaning 7am – 10am,’ I don’t even mention [the street cleaning]. I don’t care [why I can’t park there]. I just need to know [that] I can’t.”

Parking is a high stakes issue in densely populated cities like L.A., and a secondary industry has sprung up to take advantage of the confusion and the scarcity of spots. Apps like MonkeyParking allow people to bid on a pre-paid parking spot another driver has left. The app has already been served a cease and desist in San Francisco, and L.A. City Council member Mike Bonin also condemned it, commenting at a recent meeting that “Not all technology is progress.”

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This trial doesn’t guarantee the signs around the city will change. “One hurdle, a senior transportation engineer warned, would be getting approval from the state office that regulates the color and appearance of street signage,” the Los Angeles Times wrote. But it does highlight the type of impact that a single designer can have with a good idea.

Correction: We had incorrectly mentioned that Sylianteng is working with the City of Los Angeles. While city officials have referenced her designs as part of a proposal, Sylianteng says that she is not yet working with the City of Los Angeles in an official capacity.

[Images via Nikki Sylianteng]

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I'm a writer living in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Interests include social justice, cats, and the future.

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