Icons and symbols and signage are all around us, and nowhere more so than on the open road. So for this latest set of Ubiquitous Icons: hop in the car with Roman and Kurt for a crash course in roadside signage. We’ll learn about the history of the stop sign, those iconic rural mailbox, and the signs that tell you what you’ll find at highway exits.
Red Stop Signs
Our first point of interest is the classic American stop sign — you know the one: octagonal, red background, white print. But a fan wrote in after spotting a strange blue stop sign in Hawaii. The reason some stop signs are blue was a neat little story in itself, but the exception also got Kurt wondering: why are the rest red?
Blue Highway Signs
Along freeways and major highways, there is another common sign where blue is the norm rather than the exception. Pull off the road with us to discuss ‘specific service signs,’ the signs near highway exits that tell you what businesses you’ll find there. Learn what it takes to get on these signs, and how you can decode them along your way.
While technically not a graphic icon as such (at least not until the digital age), there is a certain kind of iconic rural mailbox that dates back over 100 years. But to understand how this classic design came to be, we have to go back even further. It all started in the 1800s, when the United States Postal Service introduced Free City Delivery.
Yellow Cat’s Eyes
No matter where you travel along roads, you’re bound to see some retroreflective studs. The specific design varies from place to place. Some are relatively simple, but others are surprisingly complex and have fascinating origin stories, like Percy Shaw’s “Cat’s Eyes.”
That last story is something we pulled from the pages of our upcoming book, The 99% Invisible City, which is about everyday designs. In our research, we looked both globally and locally for compelling stories and characters, like a pavement expert from Halifax and the cat that inspired his life-saving invention — a device that went from being one man’s hobby to a mechanism for national defense during WWII.