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  • You probably know how this symbol is supposed to make you feel.

  • And this one.

  • This one too, even if you're not sure exactly what it means.

  • But what about this?

  • This symbolThe Jolly Rogerwas once one of the most feared symbols in the world.

  • It represented death, pirates, and poison.

  • But today,

  • it's associated more with treasure, blockbuster movies, or Halloween than actual danger.

  • We are surrounded by icons that warn us: what to stay away from, what not to do, what to

  • be afraid of.

  • But how do you design a symbol in a way that will last across generations and languages?

  • It turns out that is an incredibly hard thing to do.

  • Back in the early 20th century, there was an urgent need for a new kind of warning symbol.

  • At the time, there was no universal standard for communicating the presence of dangerous

  • biological materials.

  • Laboratories at the US Army used an inverted blue triangle.

  • Those at the Navy used a pink rectangle.

  • The Universal Postal Convention used a white staff-and-snake on a violet background.

  • There was no consistency in the visual language used to communicate risk.

  • That was dangerous, and could lead to accidental infections.

  • So in 1966, a group of engineers and designers at Dow Chemical set out to create the best

  • possible icon for biohazardous materials.

  • They laid out six design criteria.

  • First, it needed to be visually striking, so that it would draw immediate attention.

  • That ruled out simple shapes like those from the Navy and Army.

  • It also had to be unique and unambiguous, in order not to be confused with symbols used

  • for other purposes.

  • That ruled out the snake-and-staff, which has multiple versions and has a pretty vague

  • meaning as a general symbol for medicine.

  • On top of that, it had to be quickly recognizable and easily recalled.

  • Had to be easy to stencil.

  • And rotationally symmetrical, in order to appear identical from all angles.

  • And lastly, it had to be acceptable to groups of all backgrounds.

  • So the Dow Chemical team designed an experiment.

  • Charles Baldwin, an environmental health engineer behind the experiment, said that the team

  • wanted something that was memorable but meaninglessso we could educate people

  • as to what it means."

  • They showed a set of 24 symbols to 300 people from 25 American cities.

  • There were 6 newly-designed biohazard markers, and 18 common symbolsthings like Mr.

  • Peanut, the Texaco star, the Shell Oil symbol, the Red Cross, and a swastika.

  • Participants were asked to guess the meaning of each one, which was used to assign each

  • one a “meaningfulness score.”

  • A week later, the same participants were shown those original 24 symbols, plus 36 more.

  • They were asked to identify which symbols they remembered seeing in the previous round

  • of the study.

  • Among the six competing biohazard designs, this one stood out.

  • It scored the highest in memorability, but the lowest in meaningfulness.

  • So it was unforgettable, but also a totally blank slate for designers who wanted to give

  • it meaning.

  • And with that, it became a national standard.

  • It's easy to overlook how much visual communication work these symbols are doing.

  • They're simpleyou only need a straightedge and a compass to recreate them.

  • And unlike most other hazard symbols, they don't reference an existing physical object

  • or idea.

  • But they've remained iconic for decades, helping people recognize serious dangers that

  • may remain a threat for thousands of years to come.

  • And that raises the question: could the meaning of those symbols stand the test of time?

  • Few people have pondered that question quite like Gregory Benford.

  • He's a physicist and science fiction author.

  • In the 1990s, he was invited to work on the Waste Isolation Pilot Project, or WIPP.

  • The WIPP is a massive storage site for radioactive waste in the southeastern plains of New Mexico,

  • organized by the US Department of Energy.

  • Benford was brought in to help calculate the probability that someone or something would

  • intrude on the site for as long as it remains dangerousapproximately the next 10,000

  • years.

  • Well, name anything that has persisted for 10,000 years.

  • Any institution.

  • There isn't any.

  • The record is probably something like the Catholic Church or the core of the Jewish

  • religion, which tells us something about what really lasts.”

  • The meaning of a symbol can change over time.

  • Like the Jolly Roger, which wouldn't work for the radioactive threat at the WIPP.

  • "If you're approaching the WIPP facility and you see a skull and crossbones you might think,

  • 'Hey this is where the pirates buried their treasure.'”

  • So how do you indicate a long lasting danger across any language?

  • Since the 1970s, engineers, anthropologists, physicists, and behavioral scientists have

  • proposed different solutions to that problem.

  • One strategy was to add context to the symbol.

  • By illustrating cause and effect in a three-part cartoon like this, designers could communicate

  • the idea even if the symbol lost its meaning.

  • But this kind of visual communication still made a lot of assumptions about the user:

  • that they would read left to right, that they would understand causality between frames

  • and, of course, that the drawing itself would last millennia of wear and tear.

  • So other designers started to focus on creating a warning without inscribed communication,

  • by altering the shape of the location itself.

  • And that yielded designs like this.

  • Spike fields, forbidding blocks, giant pyramids: these designs capitalized on natural instincts

  • of fear and discomfort to keep people away.

  • But even then, they weren't foolproof.

  • Designers couldn't be sure whether they would be perceived as terrifying or fascinating.

  • Conflict between these two urges: you want people to notice it but you don't want people

  • to go there.

  • Those are always going to fight each other.”

  • So without symbols, without basic illustrations, or physical structures, how can you effectively

  • communicate a warning?

  • That's where the more philosophical design solutions come in.

  • In 1984, the German Journal of Semiotics published a series of solutions from various scholars.

  • Linguist Thomas Sebeok proposed creating an atomic priesthood, where an exclusive political

  • group would use its own rituals and myths to preserve information about the radioactive

  • areas.

  • And philosophers François Bastide and Paolo Fabbri proposed to genetically engineer bioluminescent

  • cats that would glow in the presence of radioactivity.

  • By creating songs and traditions about the danger of glowing cats, the warning could

  • last as long as the oldest relics of civilization we have: culture.

  • There's no definitive solution for warning people far into the future.

  • But designing clear, inclusive symbols will continue to be a fundamental part of how we

  • keep people safe.

  • We will change, and so will the ways we communicate visually.

  • Our warning symbols will have to change along with us.

You probably know how this symbol is supposed to make you feel.

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B1 中級

危険シンボルが永遠に続かない理由 (Why danger symbols can’t last forever)

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    Evangeline に公開 2021 年 01 月 14 日
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