On signs, and the need to carry my camera everywhere

Recently, as part of my work, I have commented on a signage policy for my workplace. Signs fascinate me.  It’s a basic usability premise that simple objects should not need signs, but so often I see a sign that either isn’t working, or which (with a little thought) doesn’t need to exist in the first place. I really do need to carry my camera with me more often so that when I see signs like this I can take a picture, but in the meantime I will describe a couple of examples to you:

There are two ways ofr a sign to fail: not provide the information that is needed, or provide information which may be actively misleading to some or all of the population.  A library I frequent has only a male cleaner; as such when he cleans the women’s toilets he must hang a sign to alert them to his presence in the toilets.  The sign he uses reads “not in use”, and I suspect that this is supposed to mean that it is not in “circulation” (to borrow a liubrary metaphor, but hung on a library toilet door, it reads more like “vacant”.

Signs that don’t work are interesting, but signs that shouldn’t need to exist raise my usability analyst ire something awful.  Recently in a public building I noticed a photocopier with not one, but two signs on it letting users of the space know that the copier wasn’t working.  Now, it’s excellent that the people responsible for the building let users know the copier isn’t working, but two signs seems like overkill, and given that the copier is on wheels, why didn’t they just move it out of the public space?

Are there signs in your work or recreation spaces that make no sense?  I’ll leave you with one I found on flickr, taken by brionv:

sign says emergency exit and office--door is alarmed

The bottom sign reads "door is alarmed"

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