Thursday, November 4, 2010

Beware the One Winged Chicken Man

Products are covered in warning labels. They're important. They tell us not to do foolish things, or at least not to blame the manufacturer when we do foolish things and they don't turn out well.

Companies don't want to spend a lot on these warnings, and who can blame them? It shouldn't be necessary to warn you not to aim devices designed to burn things at yourself. Detailed written warnings are clearly out. If you need them, you probably can't read anyway. Thus companies turn to pictograms, and their fabled equivalent word count, to convey information.

The "Don't lift me, I'm heavy and will break your spine" warning pictogram is perhaps one of the oldest known to exist. It's use dates back to the Pharaohs, who had it inscribed on the enormous stones they liked to make piles of. This was to ensure that no foolish peasant would injure himself attempting to impress the womenfolk with his heroic strength. This pictogram has survived into the modern day and serves much the same purpose, though it is being applied to increasingly less weighty objects.

With the traditional pictogram being so overused that one wouldn't be surprised to find it on the wrapper of a KitKat, there are some who seek to design a new one that will make people take heed. The picture you see above is an example of what can go wrong when a misguided company and a brilliant artist come together to flaunt tradition.

The picture seems to indicate that merely touching the object will have results that, while clearly detrimental, leave their exact nature up to interpretation. Will I turn into a one-armed one-winged chicken man? Will my pants explode? These are not the questions you want to conjure in the mind of your customers. You may discourage your customers from even coming near the product.

If any warning label designers are reading this, please learn from this mistake. Stick with the traditional. It doesn't mean much, but at least nobody can sue you and they won't be afraid of your product. If you really want to be useful, though, maybe just put the weight of the object on the label. Believe it or not, some people can safely lift things that weigh over 35 pounds all by themselves.

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