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A good sign is a bad sign

13 of June '22

A column from A&B issue 05|2022

It's not perfect, but in the field of war disinformation we also have potential successes. Visual information in Poland is full of creative pitfalls. So it's not so easy to conquer the native space and architecture.

A few years ago, I mocked the visual information of Poznań's Kaponiera in the press. For the uninitiated: Kaponiera is a huge, unnecessary traffic circle with an even more unnecessary underpass - right in the center of the city. In the middle of the past decade, Road Engineering reconstructed, as part of a renovation, this thunderhead from the early Gierek era and added a tier with a rapid streetcar stop. The marking of the logistical bigotry thus created was done like the entire Kaponiera - saving the brains for another, more important occasion. Into the trash went the neon numbers and lines from the 1970s leading through the underground, and they were replaced by a conglomeration of random arrows, letters and messages. So I made fun of the fact that - in the event of, ha ha ha, a war - the enemy, having fallen into level minus one, would get lost and drop dead after another passage through the underground maze.

In February of this year, my wit shifted towards the dark reality, but - at the same time - it gave hope. Contrary to hurtful opinions about cardboard Poland - in the field of navigating native space and architecture, I see a high degree of preparedness for invasion. Our Wunderwaffe: visual information - so unpredictable. Sometimes one goes astray, in lighter cases one can acquire nystagmus, while sometimes one goes straight to where one wants, caressed by a message that is legible and placed where it needs to be. It so happens that a significant part of those who supply space and architecture with signs, inscriptions, displays, and especially road signs, are still before the course "How a man works" teaching about the real, and not imaginary reaction to visual stimuli, habits and capabilities of sight and average perception.

On the other hand, these specialists are already after some lessons in aesthetics, because - in larger centers - quite a few boards are reaching an increasingly decent visual standard. Such boards or displays are the perfect weapon. It supposedly resembles civilization, the form promises to be trustworthy, only that it hangs too low, too high, too early, too late. It hides behind another board or sign, proclaims something contradictory to the board dangling next to it, or gets lost in a flood of other messages. Or the sun or a lamppost shines so brightly on a screen bought with hard zlotys that nothing can be seen. Then there are the details: the lettering is seemingly good, with letters without serifs (maybe not the Johnston of the London Underground, but still light years away from Comic Sansa), so much so that it's tiny or on such a background that the eye goes into a pulsar.

Iron railroads have particularly talented specs. Once this way, once that way. You never know how it will be, and that's the best part. The train station in Wroclaw - however you want to, you won't get lost. Krakow? For two things. Either you'll hit your pendolino, or you'll be lost for a week on the carousel of store promotions. Poznan - here you have nothing to want anymore. You will get lost anyway. Years ago, my friends and I did a campaign here. It was called "Station Evil" and was supposed to help passengers to as such embrace the so-called new station, that is, an attachment to the shopping center concocted at the same time as the new-old Kaponiera. How the passengers thanked us for the signpost poles we held! Even (or maybe because) if we made the placards similar to arrows from hiking trails. "Platform 1 - 3 minutes, yellow trail." "Platform 4a - 10 minutes, obstacles." "Nearest waiting room - 2 hours (Wroclaw), black trail".

Iron railroaders have other misinformation patents as well. Here are some of the renovated stations adorned with signs with sensible white letters on a dark blue background. Evidently the work of someone skilled in letters. Another group of stations, also after a facelift, is instead supplied with white boards with black letters of a typeface selected by Uncle Zdzich. As anyone who is a stranger does not know whether he is still in the same country. Because somehow it so happens that there is usually one station identification system per country. Likewise with city information systems. One city - one idea. And here, unfortunately, large Polish centers are going along with the enemy - with Warsaw and its dangerously legible, visible and intuitive SIM at the forefront. The only hope is that Lodz has ripped off a sizable part of the system from the capital and the invaders will get it all mixed up.

Instead, honor is saved by smaller towns. They are still a festival of vertically and horizontally stretched serif fonts, city crests pressed onto every sign or fussy logos with the system's slogan "it's worth living here, because it's cool", which not only disturbs orientation in space, but also in time - moving the intruder straight back to the crazy 1990s. "Twisted, twisted," sings the instantly confused type and looks at how to embrace the ten-and-a-half brand brew.

On the micro scale, especially in office buildings, however, architects themselves come in handy (rarely, but nevertheless) in the field of sabotage, who are usually replaced in arranging the chaos by the facility's administrators. Sometimes, however, the creators of a building manage to create a unique, one-of-a-kind, artistic navigation system for it. They'll make such a mess that you look at the pictogram and don't know. Elevator? A TOILET? If you get it wrong, it's unpleasant.

So it's good, but not perfect. We'll probably never surpass Rome's subway system in terms of clutter and misinformation, where renovations and faulty navigation are as perpetual as the whole city. Nor are we likely to be as successful as the Argentines, who, celebrating the country's bankruptcy for the umpteenth year in a row, unscrewed street name plates in Buenos Aires to liquidate them at a scrap yard. I erred in the first place.

Anyway, regardless of the high level of preparation, we should still have "Idi na ch..." signs on standby. Worse, sanctions have also been imposed on commercial bukw typefaces and Russians are now not allowed to use many civilized typefaces.

Well, and ch... We'll be cruel too.

We'll write it in Comic Sansem.

Jakub Głaz

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