Confusing safety pictogram: muster station
An essential IMO standard safety sign on ferries is not understood by most of the passengers. How come? How to improve?
Published in European Sign Magazine, 1990, vol. 3, pag. 81.
Last change of content: July 2013.
Dr. Leonard Verhoef,
applied cognitive psychologist.
For designing complex things.
Not a designer.
After studying educational psychology and applied experimental psychology Dr. Leonard Verhoef did research on human thinking. He applied scientific cognitive psychological knowledge in designs for car drivers, skippers, and high speed train drivers. His designs for public transport passengers and people trying to escape a disaster, reduce reading time, travel time and the number of casualties substantially. This also applies for controlers (train, traffic, process) in normal practice, disturbed situations and when disaster strikes.
More, click and go to: CV.
This sign you can find on a ferry.
What is the meaning of this sign?
Which one would be better?
One sign, 11 interpretations
When passengers are asked what this sign means |
the following answers are given:
This sign means:
|This sign indicates passengers assemble here in the event of an emergency. Muster stations are found in all rooms that are open to the public. There are two kinds of emergency.|
How many passengers understand this sign?
How to communicate this meaning?
The fact that few of our subjects understood the meaning of this emergency pictogram is quite alarming. Ferry passengers can be given a lifeboat drill that includes an explanation of the pictogram. Unfortunately, this is not practicable for hundreds of ferry passengers who are sometimes only on board for a short time. In addition, in time the
human brains change an illogical meaning of a sign in memory, into a meaning that makes sense.
Application of the grammar for words, improves understanding of signs substantially. Evaluation and redesign of international standard traffic and safety signs. Conclusion: (traffic sign) exams and casualties (safety signs) can be reduced substantially.
More, click to go to: Improving graphic sign language using a word grammar.
|Another way is to build a ship in such a way that all routes on the ship will automatically lead to a muster station. In this case the exit signs would lead to both the exit and the muster station. Today that is current practice for some ferry boat builders. For existing ships this is not a solution and a sign is needed.||The designers of this pictogram did not apply basic psychological knowledge. With cognitive psychology it is possible to design a muster station pictogram that is understood in emergency situations, without training and even under stress.|
How to improve this pictogram
|Several persons in our unofficial investigation thought the figures in the pictogram were a family; probably this is caused by having persons of different gender and size.||Only when type of person is relevant this should be in the picture (e.g. in the case of a picture for toilet). If type of person is not relevant than all persons should be of the same type.|
|In the first picture, dark green and white are both used for the persons and the background in different signs. Seven persons are dark green and three other persons are white as are five arrows. In addition, some persons act as both figure and background, i.e. the four arrows and the three tall persons. Finally, with some persons there is a change in foreground and background luminosity; the three tall persons have a white body but a dark green head.||This large amount of graphical differences do not reflect any difference in content. All persons should be presented having the same luminance. Opposite luminance for foreground figures impairs understanding as is shown in the right-hand side picture.||This French assembly point sign might be understood as a wheel with spokes or a propeller.|
|The fact that before abandoning ship the passengers have to be gathered from all corners to this point, is essential to the crew but not to the passengers. Therefore, there is no need to emphasize the aspect of assembly in the sign as it is in the sign now. A sign which depicts a lifeboat will probably be understood better by the passengers as being a muster station. If it is still desirable to emphasize the aspect of assembly a pictogram representing a number of people lining up to board a lifeboat could be shown.||Skiers must line op rows of 8.||Text might be better and could be included anyway as in the right-hand side picture. In that case I would prefer the more international word assembly and not muster that only will be understood by native English readers. In case of emergency, communication is essential. Each station should have an identifier, as in the picture on the right-hand side.|
|Human cognitive performance decreases dramatically in case of an emergency. It is hard to understand that the International Maritime Organisation accepted this sign as a worldwide standard for ferries.||The first version of this article was published 28 years ago. Two major ferry accidents (Harold of Free Enterprise and Estonia) made clear that emergency control on ferries was not as it should be. The muster station sign is the standard still.|
|More applied psychology for public and transport information|
|More applied psychology for other domains:||
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Leonard Verhoef, theoretical and practical background. From an experimental coginitive psychologist to a designer of simple and complex daily life systems in a technical future.
More designs based on cognitive psychology, redesigns, psychological background, click and go to: CV.
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