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Game of Signs Episode 1: hotel lobby

We collect signs because it’s fun to analyze them—a mini exercise in clarity. It turns out making a clear sign is not so easy. We’ll post ones we find every so often. But keep your eyes peeled—send us ones you find, and we can write them into our script.

Let’s sharpen our wits on this one from an unnamed hotel lobby

all capital sign

What's not working?

First problem: If you’ve trained with us, you probably remember all capital letters are actually harder to read. This is because we don’t always read by letter—but by shape—so all caps slow us down. And, of course, they convey the feeling YOU’RE IN BIG TROUBLE AND WE’RE MAD. The people who run this hotel are quite nice, and we’re sure that’s not the message they were going for.

Second problem: What about the word “refrain”? It is a weird word to use because there are lots more everyday words with a similar meaning. If we imagine ourselves as tourists whose first language isn’t English, what will Google Translate say about refrain? “Repeating lines in music or poetry.” Hmmm. This is a weird hotel..

What might work better?
We often ask writers to communicate as if someone were sitting in front of them. If we apply that approach, the sign might look something like this:

You must pay for parking. Do not leave valuables in your car.
Please give us your license plate number.

We have four more words than the original, but if we don’t use all capitals, the words won’t take up as much room. The tone feels better too—probably a bit more the style the hotel would like to use with their guests.

We invite you to play this game too
Play the Game of Signs as you move around in the world because it’s a damn fine way to strengthen your clarity. Send us your pictures of interesting signs (and your revised versions of them too, if you like). Stay tuned for the next episode…