The symbols, signs and markers keeping us apart

Around the world, floor stickers, tape, chalk, road cones, street art, posters and signs have popped up to encourage social distancing. It’s a lovely reminder of the importance of wayfinding in keeping people safe.

To help humans understand how close is too close, business owners are creating makeshift signs and markers to encourage social distancing.

We’ve seen giant crosses taped to the floor of local shops. Emergency tape is being used to prevent lingering in food courts. Tables are blocking the entrance to cafes, posters are tacked to benches everywhere. Kids are using chalk to adorn footpaths, and street artists are using their talents to keep people apart.  While some of these graphic cues look more rushed than others, they’re surprisingly effective.

As wayfinding designer Wayne Hunt told Quartz: “Graphic cues are useful because people are generally terrible at approximating distances. Everybody’s rising to the occasion with their own graphic language.”

The power of wayfinding cues

While many of these wayfinding solutions are imperfect, at least aesthetically, they’re all excellent reminders of how wayfinding and experiential graphic design can play an important role in keeping people safe – in this case, by reminding us to stand at least 1.5 meters apart from each other as recommended by the Australian government.

Long-term, city planners may need to rethink the design of public spaces so we’re better prepared if another pandemic strikes in future – and wayfinding will be a vital piece of the puzzle. Designers are already reimagining how street signs might look if social distancing measures remain in place for a long time, while digital wayfinding will help to create more flexible spaces that discourage overcrowding.

Social distancing signs inspired by kangaroos

It’s funny to see how different countries are illustrating the 1.5 meter distancing protocol in locally relevant ways. In Australia, posters show two people separated by a gap the size of an adult kangaroo. “Keep your distance: one adult kangaroo apart”. In Florida, people are being told to “keep at least 1 large alligator between you and everyone else at all times”. In Canada, residents are encouraged to stay “about the length of a hockey stick” away from each other.

Illustrators and artists are also getting behind the social distancing movement. Street art is popping up on walls and pavements in cities globally encouraging people to ‘Stay home’ or to wash their hands and save lives.

It’s lovely to see how creatives everywhere are doing their part to keep people safe. As one artist, Sara Shakeel, told Dezeen: “I am truly happy to see how a simple piece of art can bring such a positive impact on people’s lives, especially in these tough times.”