​Wellington Branch Report: Signs say what?

October 2018

Image of Peter Russel, wearing a jumper over a collared shirt, and round glasses.

Jane Armstrong

Peter Russell is a senior technical communicator working with a team of mechanical engineers at KiwiRail in Wellington.

Last month, he shared his knowledge and insights into developing readable signs – synthesising technical language and graphics for the needs of a wide range of audiences. Not sign school, just one journey starting with a particular request and ending with, a sign!

Peter says technical communicators should have more than a nodding acquaintance with signs – their design and their meaning. While few are chosen to design them in any detail, many are called to understand and follow them. We rely on signs all the time.

We looked at a wide variety of signs from around the globe identifying their purpose and readability. Peter gave an engaging overview of his process for developing signs using recognisable symbols and key information that can be understood in the seconds it is viewed by drivers.

We also looked at some case studies and examples from Peter's work. Signs for rail tunnel portals are vitally important – there's a lot that can go wrong if you don't get the message. Some of Peter's tips for safety signs are:

  • Use plain English!
  • Put the most important information first. For example, lethal hazards should always be stated first.
  • Use recognisable symbols.
  • Use only 3 to 5 words at a time.
  • Use similar signs as graphics in publications (such as health and safety policy or emergency procedure documents).

You can check out Peter's presentation here.

Other links from Peter's presentation: