A Search for Symbols Opens Many Doors

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I’m currently researching the design of elevator button symbols—the door open and close symbols, to be precise—and my search for reference material and real-world usage has taken me to some pretty bizarre places.

My initial finds were not at all surprising; I found countless articles and blog posting, each with many to dozens of comments that all echoed the same thought—everybody has trouble finding the door open button in an elevator, and most have difficulty telling the open and close buttons apart from each other.

Another search led me to the standard symbols for clothing care (where an article discussed the change of the “don’t bleach” symbol from a filled triangle to an open one).

Camera Lense Open/Closed SymbolsMy most recent searches led me to forum discussions questioning what the pac-man symbol on the battery door of a camera was, while another link in that same search revealed the source and meaning of the symbol (that the lens cap must be open before this operation is performed), the fact that symbols for cameras have been defined by at least two different organizations, one of which has no business designing symbols and is as likely to cause injury as confusion with their misunderstanding of core symbol design concepts. (Hint: never misappropriate a symbol designed for safety for an unrelated purpose.)

I am already shaking my head in anticipation of what I will find when I continue my symbol searching.

Author: Peter Sheerin

Peter Sheerin is best known for the decade he spent as the Technical Editor of CADENCE magazine, where he was the acknowledged expert in Computer-Aided Design hardware and software. He has a long-standing passion for improving usability of software, hardware, and everyday objects that is always interwoven in his articles. Peter is available for freelance technical writing and product reviews, and is exploring career opportunities in interaction design. His pet personal project is exploring the best ways to harmonize visual, tactile, and audible symbols for improving the effectiveness of alerting systems.

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