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Social distancing and new signs of the times

An image of two women sitting on benches in a park with a two metre apart social distancing sign between them

Chris Girling, Head of Wayfinding at member company CCD Design & Ergonomics was recently in conversation with international news agency Reuters about the challenges facing effective social distancing signage as we physically navigate our new peri-Coronavirus pandemic normal.

In the space of just over two months, the practice of maintaining a two-metre social distance from others to reduce the spread of COVID-19 has changed behaviour patterns dramatically, as we navigate our way around our neighbourhoods. It has also transformed the signage landscape of our public and work spaces, temporarily or semi-permanently as yet to be determined. Hospital corridors, train platforms, town pavements and shops the world over have all been given signage make-overs within a very short time-frame (in some cases overnight), instructing us to adhere to behavioural patterns designed to keep the ‘R’ down and us as safe and healthy as possible.

With revised signage going up so quickly and with little time to reflect on its clarity and the consistency of messaging in the initial lockdown panic, what has been produced to date represents a “hotch-potch of colours, placement strategies, terminology, scale and style”. This signage by nature of its newness and current non-uniformity of design potentiates the need for people to relearn the rules of safe navigation from one setting to the next. This in itself increases the likelihood of defaulting on successfully following new guidelines thereby putting people at greater risk.

Chris argues that there needs to be a balance to produce signs that are not only clear with consistent messaging but also that are also friendly, inventive and engaging to keep people ‘on side’. COVID-19 related signs coded by a specific colour would also help to make them more easily identifiable and ensure that people actively absorb and adhere to what is being asked of them during our ‘new normal’.

The current pandemic situation and ongoing adaptations that we are having to make going about our daily life, present challenges and opportunities to those of us working in wayfinding and the sign industry. If you have a related commission, expertise or insights to share with our community, please do get in touch.