I Blame The Internet

March 17th, 2011

If you see someone drowning, laugh out loud!

So, when you read the sign pictured above, what do you see? The first thing I saw was a big fat “LOL” right in the middle of the sign. It is emphasized by a couple of wavy underlines, apparently to shame and ridicule the person in distress as they meet a watery demise. Then the footnote suggests you call 911.

If you turn the calendar back about 10 years (and I think I’m being generous here for the public at large) I think the sign would be interpreted differently. One might actually see a person flailing their arms above their head as they desperately try to tread water and gasp for air.

But over the last few years at least, the term “LOL” which stands for “laugh(ing) out loud” has become so ubiquitous that whether it’s uppercase or lowercase, people know what it means. That’s what struck me about something as simple as this sign. A part of Internet culture has bled into mainstream culture and changed the way we see things.

This type of thing has always fascinated me, and is pretty simple when you get right down to it. Our language – both written and visual – is based on symbols that have a greater meaning. As designers, programmers, marketers and communicators, it’s our job to understand these symbols and apply them properly to achieve the desired outcomes for our clients. Sometimes, that means evaluating what your current messaging is and making sure it still makes sense.┬áLike the sign above.

It’s also about understanding context for things and being able to observe from multiple perspectives. There are plenty of stories about poorly chosen domain names and ads that have unintentionally used the wrong words due to cultural differences in language. Just goes to show that you really do need to pay attention to what’s going on.

If you sign people need any help redesigning your Drowning Signs, hit us up.

Oh – and be sure to call 911 and then see if you can help, should you see someone drowning out in the real world. Laughing out loud at them wouldn’t be cool.


One Comment

  1. Kim says:

    Great post. All I saw was LOL as well. Until you described a head and arms I didn’t see it.