The Salvation Army’s Open Arms Centre faced with a universal semiotic issue due to its signage. The centre provides community and family services to the neighbourhood of Uniacke Square, Halifax. Most of the kids that come in are new immigrants between the ages five to twelve.
Diversity in language and culture combined with design abstractions was leading to misinterpretation. Regardless of language, there is also a young demographic that may not read and follow signage.
Defining the Problem
The Open Arms Centre is visited by 15-20 children everyday, and some are there for the first time. The centre's main goal is to provide the children with a safe recreational space to engage with others.
The issue with modern day signage is that it is not universal. For example; the Woman/Man symbol does not say “restroom”— it says
“a female/male separated space.” This symbol teaches that gender is an essential consideration when using a restroom. It asserts that men and women are universally identified by the shape of their bodies and the clothes they wear.
There needed to be a shift away from the emphasis on gender. The solution was to remove the person and focusing the object/activity of each space we can instead focus on our shared experience.
The centre is a one-storey building with nine rooms and a backyard. Children can access most areas except the ones for the staff like storage room and washroom. Additionally, they require permission or assistance to enter the kitchen and the staff room. How can a 7-year old differentiate between their washroom and a washroom designated for staff?
A Unique System
Simple shapes that relate to room's actions allow the children to not confide to a language, instead create a new one among themselves.
The areas are divided by colour
Green- where the children are free to go,
Orange- where they will need assistance,
and Red- where they cannot go.
Vibrant colours are used to liven up the white walls of the complex. Accompanying the icons, each room's door is painted in shades of green, orange or red to recognize it even if the icons are not coherent. The two washrooms are separated by colour and also the icons, the kid's washroom has an open toilet seat while the staff's is closed. The signage is printed on a foam board to be pasted on the wooden doors.
This "board game" is created to familiarize children with the revamped centre, giving them an opportunity to understand the new signage while educating them about their areas and the off-limit spaces. At each coloured step they are quizzed if they can enter the room or not!