Signs and what they might say

This past weekend I was wandering around Ontario College of Art & Design’s (OCAD) annual open house taking in the sights, sounds and sniffs of art and architecture and other things which strive to be either of those. Every once in a while a person caught my attention but I was there mostly to see the students’ art of which there was a fair amount, some of it quite good.

However,  what I took away from my three hours of wandering around two buildings, four floors and taking photographs of things I found visually interesting had little to do with art per se.

Nope. Well, I did buy six lithographs. But that’s not the point.

Nope. My biggest take-away was a sign posted on the door.

I was about to enter a room full of paintings and as I did, I saw a sign posted outside a room that was generally used for working in the media of paints.

I read it and walked through the doors into the room, looking at the paintings, being alternately amazed, amused and affronted by various expressions of creativity, perspective and artistic angst. That’s art though. It gets you when there’s something compelling in it, when it singes your consciousness, when it hits you over the head or punches you in the gut or pains you with its truth, takes your breath away with its power and beauty, makes you wonder, when it moves you, or when it sneaks up behind you or lives inside you like a symbiont.

But as I walked around the room looking at the drawings and paintings, I found that I was not seeing or feeling the art. My inner attention had been hijacked by an odd assembly of words. I could not get the sign out of my head.

So I went BACK to the door, read it again, and took a picture of it.

Now, I have a background in corporate communication and I have to say at first glance, this sign is an absolutely wonderful example of what not to say if you want to get people to do something other than what they might typically do otherwise known as that other C word: change as in change their behaviour.

It is better to keep the door closed? Oh.

I was reminded of earlier that morning when I overheard a woman talk with her child of about three years old, a child who was doing something extremely noisy and disruptive and not at all endearing, thereby totally annoying everyone:

“Stevie, you don’t really want to do that, do you? It might be better if you don’t.”

Stevie, about 15 years away from having a fully developed prefrontal cortex necessary for strategic thought and therefore any ability to respond to his mother’s question and comment, kept on doing the annoying, disrupting, noisy thing that was not at all endearing to anyone.

Perhaps the Administration thought that by providing the detailed rationale, students will buy-in to the idea of keeping the door closed; not only that but reach the conclusion that it IS better to keep the door closed, and commit to it, change their behaviour and therefore always strive to keep the door closed, and oh, possible even become ambassadors for the message of it’s better to keep the door closed.


The sign confused me. Was is telling people to keep the door closed or simply suggesting  that it is better to do so?

I can guess, but that is de facto bad communication if I have to guess at what a sign is telling me, if it is wishy-washy, ambiguous; if it suggests a thing rather than tells a thing.  THAT suggesting rather than telling works for romance, certain forms of writing, myths, fables, storytelling and teaser adverts. It does not work well for door signs looking to get a certain reaction, unless you really don’t want anything to happen, but just want to stick up a sign for the sake of sticking up a sign, or appeasing someone and making it look like you are doing something.

Perhaps this sign was written by committee?  By people who do not want to be seen as directing, as leading, as actually telling others what to do?  Does it represent a compromise between art and administration? By people who need consensus? Did OCAD’s Communications people have any input? Is the sign helping the door stay closed and the air move around?

Is it just me?

I bet that OCAD’s administration has never heard of the knowing-doing gap. You might have experienced that gap; you know, the gap between all the things we KNOW are the right things to do, but don’t because it takes too much time, or involves explaining things and so takes too much time,  or involves getting help, and so, takes too much time, even if we know it is the right thing to do.

Anyway, I loved OCAD’s confusing sign.

There were many other signs posted up around OCAD.  This one I thought was particularly effective in its simplicity, in its rawness, in its anti-over-produced visual appeal and its sheer ability to grab at the gut and push you in the direction it wants you to go.   Sadly, it was not for sale.


About FS

Toronto, Canada. Writing about slices of life, the moments and minor details of which come into awareness or out of imagination and the spaces inbetween.
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