One woman's design challenge: Build a better parking sign
By Loz Blain
July 16, 2014
Like many design projects, this one starts with the simple question "how can we fix this?" Parking regulations in big cities are complex and confusing, and public parking signage can take so long to decipher that you have to wonder if revenue raising is the goal behind it all. Nikki Sylianteng, living in New York City, is on a one-woman crusade to make parking signs more human-friendly, using a visual design approach and some late-night guerrilla tactics to help improve usability in her neighborhood.
I think most people can agree that parking signs are confusing. They're confusing in the UK, they're confusing in Asia, they're confusing in Quebec, they're really confusing in Australia, and despite a fairly recent overhaul, they're still pretty confusing in New York City.
One resident of the Big Apple, designer Nikki Sylianteng, is on a mission to try to make these necessary evils a little more human-friendly, using a much more visual method than the typical "wall of text" style parking signs.
Sylianteng's design is a visual calendar-styled series of bars, each bar representing one or more days with a unique parking schedule, and the side column dividing each day up into time blocks. The theory is that as you read the sign, you zero in on the day and time, and get a straight up answer to whether you're allowed to park, and for how long – instead of having to wade through great chunks of information that's totally irrelevant.
Sylianteng has been iterating designs since February this year, and in an act of "functional graffiti," she's been printing and laminating her parking schedules and sticking them up under municipal parking signs with a pen attached and a feedback box for users to comment in.
But moving to a more visual style has its own issues. For example, early versions in flat red and white were unreadable to red/green colorblind drivers, so new versions were made that include subtle hatching.
And while the visual signs do a superb job with relatively simple parking conditions, it remains to be seen if they can handle some of the extremely specific, complex and overlapping parking rules that arise in a big city – i.e. the ones that were creating the biggest problems to start with.
But Sylianteng is up for the challenge. Through her "To Park or Not To Park" project website, she's asking people to nominate confusing parking signs in their area by taking a photo and e-mailing it in. She'll create a visual parking schedule, print it out and post it back to you so you can stick it up under the existing sign, and hopefully help cut down on a few parking tickets as well as making your neighborhood a touch more human-friendly.
As for whether something like this could eventually be rolled out to replace the million-plus parking signs currently up in New York City, that's doubtful. Designer Michael Bierut, partner in charge of Pentagram, the agency that did the redesign project in 2013, found his task hindered by the "somewhat archaic regulations that govern US traffic signs."
But Sylianteng's approach has an interesting twist – as it's a project of pure design passion, she's not operating under any such regulations. And her proactive approach of sticking her designs up as translations of the existing signage has the potential to build some public momentum behind it – the kind of momentum that could result in regulatory changes, if enough people get involved. As fans of human-friendly design, we appreciate her efforts and wish her success.