Designer improves parking signs with “functional graffiti”

Published:  July 20, 2014

“I’ve gotten one-too-many parking tickets because I’ve misinterpreted street parking signs. The current design also poses a driving hazard as it requires drivers to slow down while trying to follow the logic of what the sign is really saying. It shouldn’t have to be this complicated.”

American designer Nikki Sylianteng was blatantly tired of receiving parking tickets. But she didn’t complain, she just redesigned the whole parking sign system.

American parking signs appear to be very similar to Australian ones — exceptions and permits, free parking periods versus no parking periods, all in alpha numerals, stacked up on one another, scaled in different sizes in some supposed hierarchal importance. If a driver is unfamiliar with the area, it can be a headache to decode while being wary of road hazards. Sylianteng’s approach was to strip all the numbers and written instructions, and redesign the signs with graphic instructions.

“My strategy was to visualise the blocks of time when parking is allowed and not allowed. I kept everything else the same – the colours and the form factor – as my intention with this redesign is to show how big a difference a thoughtful, though conservative and low budget, approach can make in terms of time and stress saved for the driver. I tried to stay mindful of the constraints that a large organisation like the Department of Transportation must face for a seemingly small change such as this.”

Once she was satisfied, she pasted some of them around Manhattan and Brooklyn in an act of helpful vandalism. She was curious enough about their function to include a space (and a pen) for feedback from the public. It appears to have been almost unanimously positive.

“I just visualised what I construct in my head when I’m reading the sign,” she told Wired. “A friend of mine called it functional graffiti.”

Her solution isn’t perfect, which Sylianteng is very aware of. The project, for her, is ongoing, as she tackles unforeseen issues and aims to bring the signs more in line with parking regulations. Her blog honestly details all the iterations, feedback and challenges as she determinedly continues the project.

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