Caution Wet Floor
A study of pictogram design
Pictograms are symbols that represent objects. Such symbols are the foundation of the earliest writing systems and the foundation of character-based writing systems today. Pictograms are still used today to communicate directions and warnings, particularly in contexts where cross-language communication is necessary.
Wet Floor Signs
Born out of the good intention to keep workers and patrons of businesses safe, wet floor signs exist in virtually any place of work or human traffic. This all stems from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s standard for Working-Walking Surfaces (29 CFR 1910.22), which states that “the employer must ensure [...] The floor of each workroom is maintained in a clean and, to the extent feasible, in a dry condition.” What this means is that employers are responsible for maintaining dry and safe floors, so in the moments that a floor is wet, the employer is liable for any injury that occurs due to a wet working-walking surface - so, to avoid liability wet floor signs are erected to warn workers and patrons of the potential danger.
Wet Floor Sign Pictograms
This is where things get interesting, as there is a legal need for a form of warning, but no explicit mode of communicating this danger. So in this intersection of no regulation and a mandated need of universal communication, pictograms became the perfect solution. Pictograms are understandable in any language, yet every wet floor sign designer has a different idea about how to portray a globally understandable symbol of someone slipping and falling.
The diversity of pictograms was what first caught my attention, when I realized that no two wet floor signs in my dormitory were the same - and each little slipping humanoid had its own personality. The more I looked, the more variation I observed, and I became obsessed with spotting more - documenting each new sign, and photographing my friends posing alongside them.
In just a few short months, my collection contained upwards of 20 unique pictograms (and over 100 photos!), and I knew that this was something I wanted to share. To celebrate the iconography of the pictograms in a way that emulated the celebration of the logos of big brands, I 3D printed stamps of my 15 favorite pictograms to create some clothing pieces. To showcase the apparel and the photo collection I had amassed, I decided to create an art exhibit right inside my dorm room, and share my fondness for the pictograms. With the exhibit I hoped viewers would walk away realizing that there was art all around them, and that even seemingly dull and ubiquitous items could have a story and a life of their own.