So a few days back I was on the bus, riding around town. I noticed all these caution signs on the side of the road and thought it might be interesting to throw them all together as a design. You could have your standard ones like “falling rocks” and “curvy road” but then you could do some ridiculous ones, too, like dinosaurs and aliens and such. This time, before I started I decided to catalog my process.
The first step for me is always research, usually poking around the web for images that help refine the idea in my head. Since this design was more or less reconstructing something that’s already been done, I didn’t have to look far. Google images gave me a multitude of examples to reference.
The next step was to get the sign shapes just right. I use Flash for this. I’m not sure that many other designers use this as their preliminary tool, but I find it much more straightforward than the other popular programs (so long as it doesn’t involve drawing freehand). I saved the sign shape as a symbol so that any changes made thereafter would be universal, just in case I changed my mind about the color or shape later on. Individually editing several dozen shapes is a pain. I’ve done it!
One of the problems I perceived with this design was repetition. Even though the sign images would be different, the basic shape and color of each sign would be identical, so I decided to opt for several different styles and mix them together. Another advantage would be that it would provide differently-shaped canvases that I could choose from depending on the inner image. A triangle can be be a restrictive space for design sometimes.
Next came the fun part. Working from a list that I’d jotted down in my sketchbook, I put together the images for the warning signs. Because they would appear so small in the final design I had some leeway with details, but overall they look as good closeup as they do far away.
It was at this point that I started worrying about the originality of the design. The more I thought about it, the more convinced I was that someone else had problably done the same thing (and maybe better). What could I do to push this concept a bit further?
I went to the kitchen and made myself a sandwhich. My roommate and I talked about the movie Cloverfield. He hated it, I loved it. As I was being derided for my taste in cinema, I began to think of what JJ Abrams had said in an interview. He explained that the premise behind the movie was simple – it was Godzilla for America.
I began thinking about how monsters are regional – Loch Ness in Scotland, for example, Godzilla in Japan, etc. That’s when it hit me – this design would be so much cooler if it was actually an infograph of all the hazards around the world (real and imagined). Re-enthused by my idea and my sandwhich (it was delicious), I returned to my laptop and began charting out where everything ought to go.
Conveniently, I already had designed a map of the world for a personal project from last year (I was working on designing a RISK-style game, which will explain why some countries are missing above). Now it was a matter of filling in the blanks and figuring out what signs ought to go where.
Since I didn’t want to reuse any signs, I had to come up with new ideas for a lot of places, and consider movie and song references that might help. (For example, the broken heart by California is a nod to Tony Bennett’s “I Left My Heart In San Francisco”) For some places, it was tough. Like Canada. Even Google couldn’t come up with too many Canadian hazards. It was at this point that I entertained the idea of naming the design “Let’s Move to Canada”, but I’d already settled on “Everywhere Sucks”, and the mood seemed to fit that name nicely.
Once all the signs were done, I went into photoshop for the finishing touches. I distressed the map to give it a bit more pessimism and mocked it on a shirt. I also put together a little emblem and copy to go along with the design as a “badge”. It should be up for voting on Threadless tomorrow.