• Final Mile

Different strokes for different folks

It’s interesting to see how simple codes and meanings can be inextricably linked with cultural contexts. For instance, take these three examples from Bombay

This is the First Class Compartment on the local train

Jai Ho!

You’ll see this at every construction site

Different strokes for different folks

The cops move around in these colours

Different strokes for different folks

So, lets see how this works. There was this one little proverb we learnt as kids, which went…

stop says the red light go says the green pause says the amber light blinking between.

Looking at all the above examples, the colour yellow is the one common thread for all these signs. Now, what’s the deal with yellow? Incidentally, pure, bright and sunny yellow is the easiest color to see. People who are blind to other colors can usually see yellow. Also, because of the high visibility of bright yellow, it is often used for hazard signs. In essence, yellow begs for your attention so that it can tell you the rest of the story in the sign.

Now, that the reason for yellow has been established, lets look at why other colours. Black, in essence, is absence of colour. It is empty space. Black is predominantly used in construction signages. In conjunction with yellow, it non-consciously warns you about impending danger ahead.

Similarly, the colour blue is power. Blue is also the color of protection. This symbolism is nearly universal in meaning. As a result, blue is used in national flags and symbols around the world, including the flag of the United Nations. Works very well at the subliminal level for the police, I say.

What is interesting about the first class compartment is the colour red. In the context of these signs, what red means is STOP. Interesting to note that the First Class compartment be painted red, even though they are considered “privileged” at least in this city.

It’s not tough to understand why. And after looking at ArvindSingh Thakur, a courier boy, who didn’t look the part of a first class passenger, it’s plain to see.

While of course, red in many ways denotes power (red carpets, red ties), in Bombay, the red stripes on the first class compartment send out a different message. Those red stripes are not for the VIPs to know which compartment to board. It is for the common man to know which compartment to stay away from.

While this post is only about pure observation, it is interesting to see how changing context gives a different meaning to the signs and colours.

Have you seen any interesting signs of late?

#colour #context #design #signages

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