What do the metric system and European pictorial Exit Signs have in common?

Green "running man" Exit Sign

…neither will likely be used by the United States although they’re used by most of the world. In an article by Julia Turner, the US is nearly alone in its use of red-lettered Exit signs, just as we’re alone in using miles instead of kilometers.

The rest of the world uses the “running man”, a pictorial sign showing a man running through a door – in green – the international color meaning “go”, and in this case GO NOW! Tuner says, “In most places in the United States, its safe to assume people speak English…our sign systems have typically communicated in text. Europe, by contrast, developed symbolic road signs…On a continent where you can’t drive more than a few hours before encountering a new language, the pictorial approach made sense.”

The red Exit sign was developed in 1911 after a fire in a garment warehouse killed 146 workers because exit doors were bolted shut but also not clearly marked. Although the US began adopting pictograms on a smaller scale in 1974, the Exit sign remained in text. The current “running man” sign was created by a Japanese designer named Yukio Ota, whose design beat out a very similar design by a Soviet designer. Neither knew the other design was a man running through a door, meaning the rest of the world was already thinking in pictorials.

Turner interviewed a prominent member of the NFPA who says the National Fire Protection Association sees no need to change the red lettered Exit sign used in the United States. Although we may never switch from text to pictogram exclusively, some areas are requiring both signs to be posted. New York City changed its building codes for high rises in 2006 to include the “running man” on all fire doors.

Luckily for Emedco customers, we offer both the standard, familiar text Exit Sign, and the widely accepted “running man” pictogram sign. It’s my opinion that until the green “running man” is more widely accepted in the United States, you should stick to NFPA’s guidelines and place red-lettered text Exit signs in your facility. But, who knows – maybe labeling your exit doors with the green man will start the trend that gets him racing across our country.

Advertisements