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Design in the Wild : The “Speed Camera” Road Sign

Published on 23rd August, 2007 by Stephen Lewis

The UK 'speed camera' road sign

The UK “speed camera” sign.

Designing road signs strikes me as a pretty specialist discipline. Not only are you constrained by the size of the sign itself, but you’ve also got to create something that can be read by a motorist speeding past at 70mph in the pitch dark and pouring rain.

This is where the effective use of icons really comes into its own, and despite presenting ample opportunity for schoolboy humour, the symbols for “no motor vehicles”, “hump bridge”, “slippery road”, and many others, are excellent examples of well thought-out, easily understood iconography.

Not so the “speed cameras” sign.

A more readily understood ‘camera’ icon

A more readily understood ‘camera’ icon.

This sign has always baffled me. The last time cameras like this were in common use speeding was rarely an issue, as your velocity was largely dictated by how fast the guy with the flag could walk.

I wonder how many 17 year-olds passing their driving tests today have any idea what this icon depicts (as opposed to what it represents).

Some may argue that it’s far too late to change such a widely used sign, and I concede that there are probably very sound financial reasons for not wishing to do so. However, it’s hard to deny that a more commonly-understood camera icon would be more readily grasped by future generations, and indeed foreigner visitors.

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