Artemy Lebedev

§ 141. Make it short

August 5, 2007

Task: Remind drivers leaving town to fasten seat belts and turn on headlights. It has to be an effective, instantly comprehensible message, for there is very little time to get it—just a flash, and it’s gone.

Here is a sign on the road near Taganrog:

Driver! Fasten safety belts and turn on your low beams

Very few people are able to read this fast. And driving at speed makes it impossible for most. First of all, it is hard to recognize words typed in all caps. The second thing that disturbs one’s natural reading flow is excessive and irregular inter-word spacing. And finally, the lines are crammed too close together, which turns the whole text into a mess.

It’s absolutely unnecessary to “call out” to drivers—there is no one else to address to. There are no signs saying Driver! It is 400 kilometers more to Buttville, it is just Buttville 400.

Another problem here is that the text consists of word combinations, which is typical for red tape and bureaucratic mindset (‘driving license’ instead of just ‘license’, ‘motorized vehicle’ in place of ‘car’).

The message could be carried across quickly and effectively in the following way:

Headlights and belt!

The dash signifies direct speech—spoken to are those driving by. The exclamation mark stands for the relevant imperative (also bringing a “that’s right!” response). The words are instantly readable. A driver passes the sign to understand what it said just a moment later, and remember to buckle up and turn on his headlights.

Lesson learnt: Any message is to be designed with regard to the circumstances, in which it is going to be received.

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