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Informational Icon Overload

Posted on | September 9, 2010 | No Comments

Traveling through countless world airports, it’s interesting to see how directional signs are used.  International airports rely heavily on iconography because of the language variable.  Airport’s target users – the passengers –  may not speak the language of the country of any given airport (whether they are visitors or are in transit).  Basic English signs such as Exit, No Exit, Baggage, etc. are well-recognized, but should a sign get more specific, there is still a chance that even an English word won’t be understood.

So using clear directional and informational icons is really really important in places like that.

Just this past July, while at the Ferihegy International Airport in Budapest, I found myself creating a bottleneck at the escalator, trying to understand all the warning icons posted right at the entrance:

Informational Icons - Ferihegy Int'l Airport Budapest

Informational Icons - Ferihegy Int'l Airport Budapest. What dangers await the passengers on this escalator journey??

I did ride that escalator twice but both times didn’t get enough time to digest even a third of these icons. All kinds of terrible dangers were waiting for me on this short escalator ride, and I may have broken a few escalator laws – I will never know.

This experience was a reminder that icons should be used sparingly, only when needed, and unless an icon’s meaning is absolutely clear to the test audience, a text label should accompany it.  This applies not just to the airports and other physical environments, but websites, mobile devices and applications.

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