In the 1950’s when the government was developing the motor ways in the UK, they realised that the current signs were not going to work. Thus a professor and his former student got the job to redesign all the road signs around the UK. They utilized colors and upper and lower case lettering for faster reading. They also changed up the design of the “children at play” sign to look like the student and her brother when they were young. Their objective was to make the signs clear and easy to read while moving at traditional speeds in the UK. You can find the final product here.
I remember my design classes at design school taught the importance of clean & clear design. Not to mention with road signs you need to consider not only your local audience but the tourist who may read the imagery of the sign differently than you intend. How then does this translate to the web or other forms of digital media?
Road signs in digital media are usually navigation based. Interaction Designers and User Experience Specialists will recommend things like breadcrumbs, as well as, utilizing colors and font sizes to help users figure out where they are within a site. For example when I worked on the CBS News redesign we explored colors like yellow for the Early Show, red for 60 Minutes, and blue for 48 Hours. These visual clues give users an immediate (unspoken) impact which says I am in X section of the site. It’s the way the users find their way or what UX professionals call wayfinding.
Though with that in mind, I ask my fellow UX pros if perhaps when talking about UX with people whom don’t know or understand what we do perhaps we need to use road signs to explain how people find their way through a site. What road signs will users look for when they come to your site? Will the signs say move forward? Dangerous curves ahead? Stop? What does your site say about you and will users manage to find their way? Will they find your site a nice drive in the country? Or a dangerous rocky road ahead?