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December 7, 2004 12:18 AM

Broken: Paris street sign

Paris_signMichelle Reamy writes:

This sign was posted on the street in Paris.  Such simple design, such unclear intent.  What are they trying to communicate?  Do not hold your child's hand while crossing the street? Children crossing is prohibited? Or perhaps no pedestrian crossing permitted at all?

Note: Readers have pointed out that this is a standard sign design in France. Thus it is not "broken" in Paris. This post merely points out the difference in the user's perception, based on the designs one is accustomed to seeing.


That is end of pedestrian zone, are you nuts? Even little children know it.

This site is really broken.

Dear Mark Hurst,

why are you posting such obvious things stating they are broken?

Posted by: dusoft at December 7, 2004 04:52 AM

Okay, this is an interesting one. dusoft is right about the meaning of the sign. However, it is confusing if you are used to American signage.

In the US, a cross through a sign inverts the meaning. For example, instead of "left turn permitted" a sign would mean "left turn NOT permitted".

In Europe, the cross means "end". So if you see a sign with a cross through the word "Paris", you are leaving Paris.

Lots of signs are international, such as STOP, but not all. What is broken? The lack of international signage standards. This particular sign is just fine...unless you are used to those in America.

Posted by: Robby Slaughter at December 7, 2004 06:26 AM

Wait, so... using France-standard signs in France rather than USA-standard signs in France is considered broken now?


Posted by: Daniel Drucker at December 7, 2004 08:46 AM

Oh. Yeah, what R&d said.

Posted by: Daniel Drucker at December 7, 2004 08:46 AM

I think he meant that a better intrnational sinage standard, such as the stop sign, would be a fix to the 'broken-ness' of both US and France's designs.

Posted by: Trevor Hall at December 7, 2004 09:55 AM

I thought that was funny too when I saw it. I took a picture of that exact sign this summer, and photoshopped some text onto it.

Posted by: brooke at December 7, 2004 10:37 AM

I'm not American. Nor French.

A good graphic designer would have been able to create a design that would leave no place to confusion such as this one. Good graphic design should communicate accurately, no matter where you are from. Examples of such signs abound around the world.

Dusoft, the first commenter to this posting says that the sign is obvious and even little children know its meaning. Well, maybe in France, but us, citizens of the rest of the world, don't.

While it works well for the French, for the rest of us, the sign is broken.

Posted by: sam at December 7, 2004 01:29 PM

Not necessarily. Would you also say that all signs written in the French language are broken if a non-French speaker can't understand them? This sign works just fine for the intended audience; they never promised international understanding.

Posted by: at December 7, 2004 02:52 PM

sam: you are wrong. All people in Europe knows this. I mean Europeans, I am from Slovakia BTW.

Robby Slaughter: You are not absolutely corrrect - cross does mean not only ending but also something forbidden. Actually, the example you did use is the same in both USA and Europe - a crossed arrow to the left means "left turn NOT permitted".

I am actually convinced to believe that people from US are sometime ignorants (more than we are). When I am somewhere, I do try to understand local symbols, signs etc. But people from US (I am generalizing, I know) do not. Also Americans seem to me more word-based in particular meaning - just remember the traffic signals with WALK and DO NOT WALK. I haven't seen any of those here. You just get red sign with man waiting and green sign with man walking. I know that in Frisco there are orange signs with man walking and palm/hand signalizing stop.

Posted by: dusoft at December 7, 2004 04:04 PM

I just wanted to add that you have to differentiate between grey cross (white/grey signs) and red cross (any). The former means end of something, while the latter means sth. is not allowed.

Sorry, for long posts.

Posted by: dusoft at December 7, 2004 04:07 PM

This is an excellent example of limitations of design in global setting. Instead of arguing what is broken in France and America how about suggesting solutions.

Global peace!

Posted by: Aby Rao at December 7, 2004 04:14 PM

I doubt there is any standardization comitee, just look at the electric outlets and different voltage.

Posted by: dusoft at December 7, 2004 04:16 PM

And more on grey vs. red cross/line:

Red is used on blue informational signs as ending since grey wouldn't be easily spotted.

Posted by: dusoft at December 7, 2004 05:06 PM

I'm not sure I understand, even with the explanation. What's the difference between red, blue and grey? What's the difference between "the end of something" and "something's not allowed"?

Posted by: an Ignorant North American at December 7, 2004 08:44 PM

Woah.. so, a red circle around something means it's prohibited, in Europe? (well, the Nederlands, at least).

I'm not sure a lot of these are intuitive... the "traffic restricted" sign sure doesn't make a lot of sense. A picture of a house with a car and a kid playing... then there's a sign with the same picture crossed out. To me, it's more intuitive to just show a picture of a kid running out on the road, to remind the drivers to watch out, and I'm not sure you even need an "end of" sign. You're telling drivers to be careful, do you really need to tell them to stop that? Maybe I'm interpreting these signs completely incorrectly, but that would imply that they are less than intuitive to start with.

Posted by: N.American, again at December 7, 2004 08:55 PM

Sorry for the third post in a row, but it seems very interesting to me that the signs for school zones and construction zones are identical in Canada and the Nederlands, but almost *everything* else is *completely* different

Posted by: anitsirK at December 7, 2004 08:59 PM

I think whoever posted this sign was probably correct in thinking it was broken. i agree with sam. It is a poorly designed sign, and even though perhaps the residents of Paris understand its meaning (even the children), I don't think it is just Parisians (or even Europeans) that see the sign. If it was a well designed sign, then it would never have gootn its way to this site, because the meaning should be obvious to whoever reads them, whether you are form Paris or Europe or America or Mars.

Posted by: SpicyMeatball at December 8, 2004 01:19 AM

SpicyMeatball: talk about standards. These are the standards for Euope, so what? Either respect them or you could be fined. Not at this particular case of course ;-)

I don't think that police in US have different attitude to saying "even if you don't know the law, law rules"....

Posted by: dusoft at December 8, 2004 04:21 AM

And yes, even the red circle means sth. is not allowed.

Actually, there are few basic types of street/traffic signs.

== Triangle

----- ALWAYS means: attention! (e.g. give right of way OR streetwork ahead)

== Circle

-----A: white inside space with red circle around - something is forbidden! (e.g. U-turn forbidden)

-----B: blue circle with white sign on it - you are directed to do something (e.g. use underground passage)


----- ALWAYS means: informative! (Four your information) - e.g. dead end street

I hope I haven't forgotten anything.

Posted by: dusoft at December 8, 2004 04:34 AM

Oops! I was wrong about the exact meaning of the slash. Another great reason why we need international standards.

I agree that signage should not contain written words. I think even numbers are a bad idea, although these tend to be a little more international.

Traffic signs should be the same the world over. Then everyone will be accustomed to the same thing---no confusion.

Posted by: Robby Slaughter at December 8, 2004 07:51 AM

Dusoft, you're very sure that all people in Europe know this. I'm British and have traveled around much of Europe (yes, including France) and I didn't know what this meant.

I've also often wondered what the Frech sign that's like a white square at 45 degrees to the normal, with a yellow square inside it means.

Posted by: Yeskin Gallen at December 8, 2004 09:26 AM

In answer to Yeskin's question - I sure hope they don't let you drive around the continent much. The sign you are describing (also used in Germany) means you are on a right-of-way road and all other roads will yield to you.

Posted by: Markus at December 8, 2004 10:01 AM

Yeskin: I agree with Markus. That's right of way.

Posted by: dusoft at December 8, 2004 11:05 AM

Or different way: It means you are on main road and everyone caming from other direction to this road had to wait until you drive by.

Posted by: dusoft at December 8, 2004 11:08 AM

Yeskin - you are right about that, it seems to me that selection of road signs in UK is rather limited:

Posted by: dusoft at December 8, 2004 11:15 AM

Is this horse dead yet?

I have to agree, in general, with the concept that this sign isn't broken, per se. But on the other hand, I certainly sympathize with the original poster's confusion.

The contention that "even a child knows what it means" is puerile. Of course the child knows what it means, if they've been taught what it means. They would understand just as well if the sign said "Pedestrian zone ends" or "Fin de la zone piétonnière" or "Ooga booga" or had a picture of two ducks and a wombat, if that's what they'd been taught. On the other hand, to anyone who hasn't been taught the code, these signs -- including the one in the photo -- would be pretty much meaningless. Pictorials are not necessarily any more "universal" than the written word.

Posted by: E.T. at December 8, 2004 11:36 AM

"NO (not allowed): Signs having a red circle with a red slash from upper left to lower right mean no. The picture within the circle shows what is not allowed."

To my understanding, this is much clearer. What the person is doing? Walking. Crossing out means "NO", thus, the sign means: NO WALKING, period.

On the sign in the article, the person is walking with kid, so it's unclear, wether "any kind of walking" or just "walking with kids" is dissallowed.

Posted by: Wesha at December 8, 2004 02:03 PM

since this topic just wont die, and ive not been taught standards of other counties, it could be a "no petafile area"

Posted by: picho at December 8, 2004 06:47 PM

Thanks for filling me in about the Right of Way sign.

Dusoft, I think that the selection of Roadsigns in the UK being "limited" is a good thing. If you can say everything you need to with a smaller set of tools, that's better and makes them quicker and easier to learn and understand.

This does show that some signs are abstract (like the Right of Way sign or the universal No Entry sign) and just have to be learnt as they bear no relation to what they represent.

The confusion arises with the sign in this post because it isn't wholly abstract, nor perfectly clear, so lets people draw the wrong conclusion about what it means. That, to my mind, makes it broken.

Posted by: Yeskin Gallen at December 9, 2004 06:34 AM

You're all wrong. The sign clearly means "No breeding".

Posted by: Citizen Of Trantor at December 9, 2004 11:24 AM

I always thought it meant "Children may not lead adults"

Posted by: Royce at December 9, 2004 03:46 PM

I say it's broken.

I mean, the whole point of using pictures instead of words is so people from around the world can understand them.

However, they're still using local traditions to make the sign, which defeats the purpose.

Posted by: Anonymous Person at December 9, 2004 07:18 PM


I've travelled in many countries. Most pictograpic signs are clear, although I did have to ask my wife to explain the Chinese "no spitting" sign.

This sign, though, is not clear.

As for the international standards on signs, two more that I have noted:

Red means you must do what it's telling you.

Yellow means that it's advising you of something, it's your judgement as to whether you must act on it. (Example: Stop--you must stop. Yield--you only stop if there's other traffic.)

Posted by: Loren at December 12, 2004 03:27 PM

Broken. To a Canadian, anyway.

If it was solely about pedestrians, why make two people different sizes? It should convey "no people," not "no children witht heir parents."

Posted by: paul at December 13, 2004 12:21 PM

Not broken...

I saw this sign as well in Paris and after a brief moment of confusion understood it to mean "no pedestrian crossing"

I hope comparing and imposing cultural norms of our home country (in this case use of symbols) when we travel abroad is not a uniquely American thing. I find it quite borish.

Posted by: aynne at December 15, 2004 01:59 PM

Well what about urban explorers? Most of us just ignore any sign that starts with "do not" or any sign that says "Authorized Personnel Only", etc... But one thing that is almost always the same no matter where you go is the "Authorized Personnel Only" signs, they all mostly have a person in a triangle with a red cross going through it. I just authorize my self and go right on in.

Posted by: Andrew at December 15, 2004 05:44 PM

I thought this sign was for not with my daughter!

Posted by: NHJim at December 20, 2004 04:59 PM

What I found interesting is that red octagon stop signs in France said "Stop" on them, but the red octagon signs in Francophone parts of Canada said "Arret".

Posted by: Kaleberg at January 6, 2005 08:59 PM

Broken - even if some people can immediately determine the sign's meaning, the fact that others can't means it's broken.

A properly designed pictographic sign should be easily understood by *everybody*, regardless of where they're from or how clever they are.

Posted by: Zeem at January 7, 2005 06:01 PM

When I was on a tour in paris (this photo is taken right infront of the police station) the tour guide said it was a no walking your giant zone.

Posted by: neal at January 26, 2005 08:45 PM

OMG most you fools are missing the point of this create amusement. Dont take it too seriously.

Posted by: Robert at April 12, 2005 12:21 AM

good day to all

I myself am a student studying graphic designing and am currenly working on signage system for a city.

After reading and researching on this paticular subject i am inclined to say that though one understands cultural and regional differences it can not apply to pictorial representation.

graphic representation should be universaly understood. If one needs to be a european to understand this then it might as well have been in the language known to them which would increase THEIR understanding.

Also as Paris gets international tourists their signage should assist them if done in this fashion else it is not neccessary for such a design to be in place.

I know this view has been stated but I liked the dialogues and thus wanted o expree my view.

Posted by: Navidita at May 11, 2005 08:21 AM

Face it, the standards that are in Europe are different than those in North America. Get over it.

I was terribly confused by the traffic signs I saw in Europe (Germany/Denmark), which are similar to the Dutch ones above. I mean, a 50 in a red circle means you can't go over 50. A 50 that has slashes through it means you CAN go over 50. Nevertheless, it their standard and I don't think they have to change it.

As for this picture, the first thing you need to do is to recognize that the basic sign is that of pedestrians. Its actually very similar to the one we use in Canada. The cross therefore means No Pedestrians.

Posted by: Michael at October 27, 2005 08:30 PM

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