Three Labels and a Sign

Why do we label objects?

  1. Because they’re new things, and we don’t understand how they work.
  2. Because the objects’ owners want to add additional information (often promotional in nature) to the object.
  3. Because they’re not simple enough to operate without additional instructions. When we can’t figure something out, we usually blame ourselves. More often, it’s the designer’s fault.

I think these two examples–from two different public bathrooms–definitely fall in the #3 category. First we’ve got a faucet from UBC Robson Square:

Faucet Label

In case you can’t read it, here’s what it says:


I’m trying to imagine the circumstances that led to these signs (there’s one behind every faucet). A lot of complaints from frosty-handed MBA students? A lawsuit from a computer science professor with bad circulation? And, for the record, calling a sink a ‘basin’ is so twee.

Next we visit a different bathroom (I forget where) and find this label on the toilet fixture in a stall:

Toilet Label

The text is like a little poem:

If sensor is blocked,
use manual flush button.
This unit features
a 3 second flush delay.

This begs all sorts of questions: why would the sensor be blocked? How would I know if it were blocked? And why do I care about the flush delay? Most importantly, why is the flush delay a ‘feature’?

Next we’ve got a tissue box with a spot for a youngster to write his or her name:

Kleenex Box Name Tag?

This is for really poor kids, who own so few things that their Kleenex box is precious to them.

I’m kidding. Someone pointed out that this is probably for daycares and schools, where each kid has their own tissue box, but it still struck me as a little funny.

Finally, I snapped this photo of a sign on one of the newest ships in BC Ferries’ fleet. I thought the artwork was oddly evocative.

High Fives are Prohibited

“No High Fives Allowed.” Or maybe “Cylons Only Beyond This Point”?


  1. These are indeed odd. My pet peeve is the sign that can’t be understood by the typical person. Example: at a regional park here in Ontario, I spotted this in the washroom — “Water not potable.” How many of the immigrant families there on that hot sunny day knew not to DRINK the water????

  2. I always wonder too about the people that write this type of signs (BASIN OPERATION….) and the signs along the highway in capital letters only. Don’t they know about legibility and how hard it is to read while driving?

  3. Ah yes, the days of name labeling your kleenex box. At my elementary school it would be on our school supply list. “Each child is required one box of Kleenex with their name on it.” Right up there next to the No. 2 Pencils.

    If you were caught with a runny nose, or worse a bloody nose and you didn’t have that labeled box, boy would you be sorry! Can we say social outcast?

  4. As to flush delay: it’s a great watersaving feature!

    I hate it when the toilet autoflushes and there is just another little bit of Kleenex or t.p. from that runny nose to toss it. Even if I don’t flush it, odds are the next person will flush before using.

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