But people in the rest of the world—at least, the kind of people who spend time considering how to mark a means of emergency egress—think our simple red sign is completely nuts. Many other countries use some version of the ISO standard, a symbol developed the late 1970s by a Japanese designer named Yukio Ota and adopted for international use in 1985. This take on the exit sign goes by the informal name "the running man".
Fans of Ota's running man point to two key advantages: It's a pictogram, and it's green. The sign's wordlessness means it can be understood even by people who don't speak the local language. And the green color, they argue, just makes sense. Green is the color of safety, a color that means go the world over. Red, on the other hand, most often means danger, alert, halt, please don't touch. Why confuse panicked evacuees with a sign that means right this way in a color that means stop? International designers tend to think our system is illogical and consider our rejection of the running man to be as dumb as our refusal to adopt that other sensible international norm, the metric system.
Are the running-man advocates right? This battle over the exit sign has been brewing for 25 years now, and the little green guy is slowly making inroads in the States. But to understand whether he should triumph, we must first understand America's skepticism toward pictograms and symbols, which have long been more popular in the rest of the world than they are here.
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