An ambiguous company logo

Ambiguity

The ocean-going yachtsman in the photograph is worried. He is worried about a bank. Does a sand bank pose a threat to him and his ship? Or is a commercial bank threatening him with foreclosure? The word 'bank' is ambiguous.Besides words, figures can be ambiguous also. Take this figure on the automatically inflating life vest of this troubled yachtsman. It is a very ambiguous figure indeed. A small survey among friends produced no less than nine different opinions.

The answers

About half of them thought they perceived a drowning person who stands breast high in the water, calling for help with his arms stretched above his head. Another sees a girl with a skipping rope. One fifth has a totally different idea, immediately seeing a horseshoe shaped life buoy. Either spontaneously, or after a few more questions, most people see both the man and the buoy. This is not the end of this row of interpretations.
Logo on life vest
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More answers

  • a smoked sausage
  • a bollard for berthing ships
  • the rank distinctives of a merchant a marine officer, as a seaman said.
  • a light bulb, according to someone who works in a lamp factory


  • a teat, claimed a highly pregnant yachtswoman
  • the lip with which you open a cola can, said a teetotaller.
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    Psychology

    Such answers demonstrate several psychological phenomena.

  • People do not observe things in the way a camera does. People observe things in an interpretative manner.

  • For such interpretation one uses whatever is stored in one's memory and what has been keeping one's mind occupied lately. Consequently, a human being, in addition to his eyes, also uses his memory and intelligence for the interpretation of information received.
  • One can lead people in a certain direction by first showing them something else. When they are asked to read the text 'front' in black letters on the life vest, they concentrate on observing black characters. If one then asks them what the ambiguous figure does mean, the number of horseshoe shaped buoys and smoked sausages will grow.
  • The champion ambiguous decoration designer, the artist Escher. He made abigouty visible by showing the transition. Looking, for example, from left to right, one sees butterflies gradually change into lizards. Both in psychological and aesthetic terms a magnificent solution. Fortunately, to the yachtsman it does not matter whether he thinks he has a drowning person or a sausage on his chest. If he does indeed run onto a sand bank, hopefully the technical designers of the automatically inflating life vest have done their work just as well as the graphics designer of the logo.
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