Re: Public Signage

From: Philippe Verdy (
Date: Thu Aug 10 2006 - 10:22:50 CDT

  • Next message: Doug Ewell: "Re: Draft 3 of the proposal to encode an EXTERNAL LINK SIGN in the BMP"

    Having them encoded would also promote the development of common fonts supporting them and would have the additional benefit of standardizing more or less those pictograms across all those kind of publications and information leaflets you are citing.

    The interest would be a simplified reading for consumers. However, before adopting such large set, it is essential to contact some professional international organisms working in the tourism area. As well as reknowned editors that are publishing wellknown travel guides, to see how symbols that have minor stylistic variation could be unified; the unification would be based on the (iconographic appearance+effective meaning) pair for coherent results.

    By minor variations I mean here such thing like boldness, black/white/hollow interior, color. Note that some pictograms may have different meaning in some books according to their color (a bad design decision for color-blind readers, or for transmitting information on monochromatic medias like faxes), but only one of those symbols should be encoded; this could be an incentive given to publishers to use distinct pictograms, without absolutely requiring color distinction, even if distinct colors may still be used to emphasize some symbols.

    I thought about the case of travel and guides, because they are created, and managed using databases constantly under review, but these database suffer from the impossibility to insert these symbols within the articles themselves, and this tends to create lots of difficulties when composing the books from these databases due to a too rigid system that separates plain text articles and these symbols that could more easily be used coherently rather than incoherent and difficult to read abbreviations. The solutions developed currently require using righ-text format, but this does not ease the maintenance and review of those databases, and this leaves opportunities to lots of uncorrected typos at publication time, or to costly rereading, and lots of manual operations to compare the source reports with the information to publish. (I know for example how some guides like "Le Petit Futé", or "Le Guide du Routard", or "Guide Michelin" are produced in France, and the development cost of such guides is tremendous, meaning that few guides survive, and this tends to reduce the number of information sources for final readers seeking for information; any way that would allow permitting reducing the cost of creation and publication would benefit to consumers, with more widespread information from multiple independant sources; with more conventional signs comparable from publication to publication, guides would be easier to read, the pagination and format could be reduced, and hopefully these guides would be less expensive to buy).

    Security signs, and signs for conformance to national or international standards should also be studied, simply because it would help creating better documentation for consumers (some documentations are poorly translated, and incorrectly translated periphrases are not always well understood, and this is critical when this is realted to features that products are supposed to include or support, as they are part of the buying decision or needed for differentiating products that would seem similar). This should involve experts from the organisation developing these standards.

    Let's not forget also the case of existing ISO standards that include common sets of symbols. And also the case of newspapers that all have their conventional iconography in addition to their distinctive fine typography and distinctive page layout and content organisation. This iconography is often costly to develop or imply to adapt to stylistic change.

    This iconography is very important today, in a globalized market. This is a domain where there is lot of creativity but these symbols are not always known or have too broad variations and sometime create confusion due to lack of good support in important standards related to the creation of documents.

    Anyway, it is now becoming so large that it defines a sort of international language by itself, and they create a true ideographic system, and the world has never used so many ideographs as today as everyone is exposed to them and has learnt to recognize a lot of them, in addition to the native linguistic scripts. But it's now high time to limit the proliferation of symbols for the most important things and to adopt some common iconography acting as a common terminology.

    Here again, I don't think that most of these symbols should go to the BMP. We have a nearly empty plane already assigned for symbols. (There are tons of documents using such symbols that are even more useful and used with lots of products from international manufacturers, than the existing symbols with limited usage like astrology signs or game symbols lke dice faces that were encoded in the BMP). To go to the BMP, only the most important symbols should be selected when they are really international, part of an international standard, widely used on lot of products and publications and easily recognized.

      ----- Original Message -----
      From: Andreas Stötzner
      To: ; Andreas Stötzner
      Cc: ; Michael Everson ; Ingo Preuß
      Sent: Wednesday, August 09, 2006 8:38 PM
      Subject: Public Signage

          So the discussion is not muvh about which symbols should be encoded, but where they should be: in the BMP if we have evidence that it is of widespread use, and found in actual books, and not only on their cover or on packing cartons, where they are used with special style and layout but not in a regular text flow.

          Among the most attractive symbols to encode in the BMP are those found in many tourism guides, which contain thousands of addresses and evaluations. They currently need to use pictograms very often directly mixed within the normal text flow, where they are replacing long sentences. Many of those symbols are very common and used coherently across multiple books from distinct publishers, to abbreviate the presence of essential services like food (in hotels), minibar, a bed to sleep, a camping area, a private parking, baths, flowers and gifts, shops, pets allowed, or other interesting touristic attractions, like castles, museum, musical animation, plane and railway accesses... Some of those symbols are more or less already encoded in Unicode in some way, but not all. Did someone review the collection of pictograms found in common books and guides in various languages?

      Yes, I did, and I still do. I own a collection of hundreds of samples: tourist and camping guides, time tables, travel broshures, airport floorplans, hotel leaflets, holiday catalogues and and and … all in which many, many ideograms are conventionally used, even *within* text composing.
      I work on monitoring them, collecting and ordering, for about five years. In 2003 I published "Wo ist was? Publikzeichen im realen und medialen öffentlichen Raum". (SIGNA Nº 5, please check ). It’s a small but in-depth-study on public signage, it also offers a modest draft of categorising public signs.

      The need of encoding public signage (I definitely prefer this term, "symbol" is far too vague) is obvious. Those signs form an ideographical system just as Chinese or Hethite does. Surely the time is now to handle that matter seriously. It has been regarded as "dingbatty rubbish" far too long.

      As a first step, I just submitted a preliminary proposal to the UTC this very days. It is intended to encode about eighty of the most useful public orientation signs. Since it seems to be not yet available at the Unicode website I offer to send it via mail on request.

      In order to reach a reasonable coverage of public signs in use today we should consider a roughly estimated amount of thousand signs. That means quite a lot of work, anyway. – Who may pay for that? Bill Gates? The UNO? (Sorry, I’m just a freelancer without academic backing.) It might take one month alone to scan all the samples stored in files and books. This is not a volunteers job.
      Few months ago I induced the German standardisation body to apply for government funding for encoding public signage.

      However, I shall be happy to coordinate efforts among those who are interested in Public signage as well and have substantial contributions to make. Any helpful suggestions welcome.

      With kind regards,

      Andreas Stoetzner
      Signographers Network International


      Andreas Stötzner L E I P Z I G +49 -341 -2111926
      Internationaler Arbeitskreis Signographie ATypI DIN Unicode-Consortium Gutenberg-Gesellschaft MUFI
      S I G N A – Beiträge zur Signographie Willkommen auf


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