2012. Set of 15 laser cut and engraved acrylic signs.
SIGNal is an investigation of the “Toilet” symbols from the 50 Symbol-Signs originally created in a collaboration between AIGA and the US Department of Transportation. Of the 50 symbols, the toilet symbols are the only ones (although you could make an argument about the nursery symbol as well) designed to represent the “who” of a space or service rather than the what.
The “Toilet” symbols rely on traditional stereotypes of clothing and physical appearance of men and women to create a generic graphic form of each individual. These signs are used consistently in the United States to mark restrooms and have had a number of other applications in their role as “universal” symbols in our society. Uniformity is important for usability and easy recognition of necessary services like a toilet, however, our ubiquitous use of these images does nothing to advance equality or reflect our own evolving eclectic society.
The fifteen signs in this set explore a a wide range of images, both practical and impractical (complex symbols are hard to “read” from a distance), that represent the “who” and the “what” of the space. The “who” signs include those that are culturally gendered and those that are based on biological sex. The “what” signs include representation of the facilities, as well as the biological processes that result in the need of a toilet in the first place.
Even single-stall bathrooms tend to be exclusionary. Some single-stall bathrooms are labeled with either the man or woman symbol. Others include the “Unisex” symbol which still enforces gender norms and a gender binary. Other solutions have included “Family” bathroom symbol which reinforces heterosexuality and excludes same sex couples. Single-stall bathrooms are a safe-haven for transitioning or transgender individuals who are often harassed when using a more traditional gender binary bathroom. The signage we use to identify these spaces does little to advance the rights of this group. In fact, our signage indicates that this population does not exist. From my perspective, the most ideal solution is the institutionalization of single-stall toilets that can be used by anyone and can easily be labeled with an image of a toilet. Unfortunately, such a shift would require a large cultural rethinking about traditionally hetero-normative spaces and, in some cases, architectural reconfiguring.
The intent of this project is to initiate dialogue and prompt steps toward change and awareness. What are your recommendations for signage? Download the SIGNal template and design your own. What changes have you instituted at your place of business, work, school, etc? Share your answers and designs via Twitter using #signaltalk and @cyberthread.