Ambiguous Visual Controls

The Ambiguity Deepens…

By Jon Miller Updated on May 24th, 2017

This was found in Frankfurt airport, hanging every 100m or so in the hallway of the terminal. It’s a long narrow hallway. These signs are positioned such that if you are walking down the hall, the visual control indicates to go right. If you are walking across the hall to the other side, or standing parallel, the visual control is an ambiguous downward arrow. Is the message “exit here”? No, because it is hanging in the center of the hallway, the exits are on the other side.

It would be more helpful to make the emergency exit signs behind the Lufthansa counter larger and more prominent and have a visual with only left or right arrows to indicate that the nearest exits are through the boarding gate doors, rather than at the far ends of the hallway *cough* obviously *cough*.

  1. John Santomer

    May 1, 2011 - 11:55 pm

    Dear Jon,
    I am absolutely, deeply gasping for air! Not because I am tired running to the exits but laughing my wits out! Well, we’re absolutely sure now where these signs are good for… (gasp, gasp, wheez, wheez!)
    Let’s just hope the comedic relief will not cause any confusions when the need for its real use is at hand…

  2. Krunal Raval

    May 2, 2011 - 12:03 am

    I love the way he keeps clicking pictures of every small thing. This surely helps in explaining things with a wit….i tried same in one of my training session when I was required to train on innovations and out of the box thinking….the only difference being…my camera was not giving me this much high resolution output…i wonder what camera is he using.!!!!

  3. Ed Thumith

    May 2, 2011 - 4:30 am

    Good stuff. One thing to consider is the downward arrow in Europe is equivalent to our upward arrow in the States – it means go straight. When I first ran into this, I was equally confused. And asked the question, Why would Europeans use ‘go down’ to reflect ‘go straight’? But the more I thought about it, I started asking, Why would Americans use ‘go up’ to reflect ‘go straight’? While you are in Frankfurt pondering how to get to the basement of an airport, there’s a German in JFK wondering how to get to the roof.

  4. leansimulations

    May 2, 2011 - 9:14 am

    Love these pictures. Ditto on the downward arrow. It’s so unnatural for us Westerners to encounter these signs pointing down. I’m constantly looking under the sign for something important.
    Perhaps it has something to do with the placement of the signs. Could Americans have started with signs located closer to ground level, where pointing up more naturally reflected going straight?

  5. John Santomer

    May 2, 2011 - 10:54 pm

    Dear Jon,
    I suppose one should consider the audience before displaying these signs…An international airport, for one, would be visited by various nationalities. I guess some people opted to use the sign instead of the text as it is considered universal. Not everyone will understand English, French or German. But geographical understanding of the sign should also be considered. Would it be more understandable to write “Straight ahead”, “Tout droit” or “Geradeaus” instead of the arrow sign?

  6. lean manufacturing

    May 8, 2011 - 8:32 am

    These are good pictures of simple visual aids. I use a lot of these in my plants. It’s amazing to me that simple tools like these can work if the facility leaders (be it management or floor leadership) reinforce the message the tools are sending.

Have something to say?

Leave your comment and let's talk!

Start your Lean & Six Sigma training today.