City crossroads are very important junctions; places where all the drama takes place. The humble traffic signal witnesses it all. If you happen to be at any of the crossroads in Ahmedabad, you will notice how unnoticed these traffic signs go. A newbie in Ahmedabad is sure to get scared by the traffic sense of the citizens of this city and he/she is sure to drop his vehicle and run. Traffic signals and signs are a waste of the government’s efforts in the state of Gujarat and in turn, the efforts of mankind, which date back to almost 5000 years.
No one follows these signs and it is strange how they consider this act of ignorance a ‘normal’ thing to do. We as citizens ignore these signs without realising that these traffic signals have been installed at a huge cost, which has been gone from our pockets in the form of tax. It’s really shameful how proud and victorious we feel after breaking traffic rules… Alright, let’s leave this ‘traffic sense’ topic for another blog!
But, it is this very attitude that forces me to dig further into the invention of traffic system. And when I find the answers I am amazed by how mankind shaped our living through various tools and forms of knowledge disciplines; one of the vital disciplines being design, graphic design, visual arts and language. These traffic signs and posts are just one example of how design impacts our social and community living.
Life is lived in the symbolic domain. Yes, we may want to believe it or not, but symbolism constantly shapes our lives and solves all practical problems. Design is the tool that employs symbolism and signification, which eventually gives structure to the reality and practicality. Isn't it amazing!
If you ask anyone about who is behind these developments, most of them will credit the engineers, architects, doctors, scientists... but hardly anyone would give the credit to the ‘designers’.
Take for example the Zebra crossing. What is it? It is an application of graphic design. These are graphics that use black and white colour. Its function is to allow pedestrians to cross the road and to indicate that vehicles must stop. Again, what are red, orange and green lights with arrows on a traffic signal? These are graphic signs too and their form shows direction whereas colours refer to stop, ready and go. These simple graphical signs solve a major problem of traffic flow. In the absence of such signs, we may never reach our offices on time and may get stuck a major traffic jam.
Since time immemorial, signs have been solving social and life problems. Cave paintings, stone carvings, signs on tree trunks are some good examples. These graphical signs and symbols, also known as pictographs, logographs, cuneiforms, have been designed by man to pass on the messages, not just stories or experiences, but also the warnings, information and instructions. In addition, as man has advanced, the use of colours has come into play and such signs, for general usages, have become a common and integral part of human civilization. In fact, they are instrumental in shaping our community living and in making the technological development relevant and user-friendly.
And it’s not just the signs we see on the roads, but the red tilak (sindoor) on foreheads of married woman in India. Also, the flag that represents different countries and the yellow school bus and the signs that show designated seats for differently-abled individuals are also examples of how graphics and design form an integral part of our day-to-day life. These signs are also a representation of our variegated culture. Take for example the symbolism of black suits worn by Americans and Europeans at funerals and white coloured costumes worn by Indians.
These simple signs are solution-driven designs that facilitate a need or purpose. The skull and cross (X) sign warns us of danger. The milestones signs tell us the distance remaining in a journey. The weather signs help us stay prepared. Some warning signs inform us if there is an animal nearby. The petrol pump signs indicate its presence in the vicinity. And the list goes on - he and she bathroom signage, wet floor signs, hospital signs, amongst others.
The word ‘design’ has a wider domain, which covers the design of tools like ‘chimta’, ‘saandsi’, or kitchen pincer, the U-pins and dustbins, chair designs that have eased our life, kept it organized and made it comfortable. Whether we are aware or not, design surrounds us and can be found in the most unassuming of places. The phones we use, the vehicles we commute in, you will find design in everything; even in the food served at the restaurant.
Yes, design carries all the engineering and scientific marvels in a shape, form and finish. The impact of design is beneficial and rewarding. Design is not just about a pretty picture and fancy fonts. It is about understanding and experimenting, mastering and knowing what works and what does not.