Forgot your username or password?
Visual pollution— so called—obviously has, like smog and litter,
ramifications beyond the aesthetic. “Wayfinding,” aimed at the
diminution of chaos through clarity, is one of graphic design's
noblest promises. Highways could be made navigable, cities
understandable, streets safe, and even malls pleasant through the
introduction of good signage. If design can't transform society, it
can at least clean up the campsites.
But some urban predicaments are beyond the reach of even the
most thoughtful graphics. A friend returning from Beijing reports
that in this Year of the Pig, the city is a mess. The sky is
permanently discolored, the air unbreathable, the population almost
unbearably dense, the traffic snarled and snarling. In the creation
of unlivable cities, as in trade, China is playing catch up with
Trade with China is a dominant concern in America today, but not
a new one. The “treaty ports” established in the 19th century were
Chinese cities that had been opened to foreign trade, which meant
foreign influence. One such port was Tientsin (now Tianjan), a
large industrial city only 80 miles or so from Beijing (then
Peking). Tientsin at one time or another played host to nine treaty
powers, including Great Britain and the United States.
In 1946 World War II was over and my Marine Corps unit was
dispatched to Tientsin to disarm the Japanese, who had not yet
formally laid their weapons down, since there was no one available
in Northern China to pick them up. This happy accident made me an
eyewitness to the Big Road Switch in the Year of the Dog.
Under years of heavy British influence, driving in Tientsin was
done on the left side of the road. One day we were summoned to a
briefing by a major in the Military Police who held up a placard
with nothing printed on it but a date. “On that day,” he said
ominously, “things are going to be different around here. As of
that date, vehicular traffic, which now flows on the left side of
the road, as it does in England, will flow on the right, as it does
in the States.”
Actually, traffic did not exactly flow on the left, or
anywhere else either. There was no traffic, as we remembered
traffic from civilian life. Very few Chinese had cars, and the few
who did had no access to gasoline. Fueled vehicular movement
consisted almost entirely of military vehicles. Some interpreted
the switch as the arrogant imposition of American motoring habits
on the natives. I think it was dictated more by the difficulty
Americans had, trying to drive on what we had grown up believing
was the wrong side of the road, as we sat at the wheels of jeeps
and trucks with the driver's seat on the left.
“This will be a complex operation,” the major said grimly. “A
sustained period of confusion and error is anticipated. Driving
will be hazardous and, for that matter, so will walking. Accidents
are certain to occur. There is no way this can be a smooth
transition. We don't want these people to kill each other, but
mainly we don't want them to kill us. The most effective course of
action you can take is to keep the hell out of the way. All
personnel not otherwise assigned are therefore ordered to stay off
the streets and advised to remain in their quarters for the entire
On “D-Day,” ignoring the major's orders, we lined the sidewalk
in front of our temporary barracks—the old American Legion
headquarters—to watch the fun. As far as I can remember, there was
not much resistance from the Chinese. Perhaps, with the Communists
poised to drive the Nationalists out of the country, any change
from left to right was a welcome symbol.
Chaos was immediate, in the form of fender benders, scrapes,
crashes, and shrieks. The chief inheritors of disorder were not the
powered vehicles, but the bicycles and rickshaws that had to dodge
them and each other. When a rickshaw and its puller were knocked
over by an out-of-control Army truck the puller lay sprawled out in
the street, moaning. Several Marines rushed out of the truck to
help him, but before they reached him, a voice commanded in heavily
accented English: “Don't touch that man! Don't go near him. Get
back in the truck right now.”
The kibitzer, standing near us on the sidewalk, was a civilian
in western dress. He turned out to be a Viennese doctor who had
fled the Nazis. “Under Chinese law,” he claimed, “if you help him
you are responsible for all his medical expenses for life.”
Talk about a national health care plan! The men got back in the
truck, and soon the victim got to his feet, examined the shattered
rickshaw, and was last seen negotiating with the driver over
reparations. He seemed not to have been seriously hurt. His concern
was the rickshaw that was his sole means of support and which he
Well, everyone had been given advance notice. For weeks there
had been banners at major intersections and posters attached to
every vertical surface in sight. The Chinese lettering looked
exquisite, but was ineffective as damage prevention. The pileups
continued all day. What Auden said about poetry could be said as
well about signage: it makes nothing happen. Today they drive on
the right in Tientsin, but they do it for the same reason New
Jersey drivers do: because everyone else does and they'd be toast
if they didn't. Carnage trumps signage every time.
Ralph Caplan is the author of Cracking the Whip: Essays on Design
and Its Side Effects and By Design. Caplan is the former editor of
I.D. magazine, and has been a columnist for both I.D. and Print. He lectures widely, teaches in the graduate Design Criticism program at the School of Visual Arts, was awarded the 2010 “Design Mind” National Design Award by the Cooper-Hewitt
and is the recipient of the
2011 AIGA Medal.
Trucks and danger intersect on the road, spawning a graphic design niche: the safety sticker. Patton notes some of the alarming variations that exist.
Section: Inspiration -
Passengers at Paris’ La Muette station were treated to a rich visual history of posters uncovered during construction. Tempest reports on her underground discoveries.
Section: Inspiration -
history, Voice, graphic design, posters, international
Can a religious icon be redesigned? In this reprise from a 1985 AIGA Journal Heller reports on how Rhode Island designer Malcolm Grear took the challenge and modernized the cross.
Section: Inspiration -
Voice, culture, social issues
Baltimore creatives have some fantastic workspaces with a variety of features. Take a look at just a few we've seen so far. Then, snap a pic of your workspace and post it on Instagram with the hashtag #bmoreAIGA100 for a chance to win one of two year-long Skillshare subscriptions! Want to double your chances? Come up with a creative way to spell out #bmoreAIGA100 in your photo for a second entry.
CSTUDIO Design creates book trilogy for photographer, Brooks Williams.
Our highlights from the first day of the Design Indaba event in Cape Town
Posted by Rob Alderson
6 days ago from
It's Nice That
Kru Khmer Bath Salt
Real Good Experiment
Creative Manager- The Arizona Sports Foundation (Fiesta Bowl)
February 19, 2015
What’s Up With Your Workspace?
February 18, 2015
Santa Composição Portfolio