In early September 2015 I had the privilege of giving a presentation at a world conference on visual communication held at Birmingham University in Birmingham, England. It was a great experience and, for two reasons, it was different from any of the nearly 100 speaking opportunities I’ve had over the past 25 years of lecturing on safety sign and label best practices.
First was the audience. Typically I’m lecturing to groups of engineers and safety professionals who are intelligent and know their field well….but they know little about graphic design and visual communication. The opposite was the case here. At Vision Plus 2015 every one of the 85 or so participants had made visual communication theory part of their life’s work. It was clear from the outset that they understood as much or more about semiotics than I did. It seemed like each one of the lecturers and participants I had the opportunity to speak with during breaks applied design and communication theory to a different kind of “signing.” Applications ranged the full gamut. Where one specialized in the labeling of pharmaceuticals so they could be more clearly understood by the elderly, another’s expertise was in the legibility of highway signs and he had helped to develop a new set of signs for Chile.
The second feature that made this speaking opportunity unique was that each presenter was limited to 20 minutes. The norm is an hour. But this format was more like a TED talk. I started off my lecture with the words that I was going to sum up my exactly 20 years of participation in writing ISO safety sign standards and I was going to do this – sum up my life’s work – in exactly 20 minutes! They laughed. But my 50 slides were designed to visually convey the points quickly and I accomplished the goal. Twenty years of ISO standards committee accomplishments were summed up quite nicely and I ended exactly on time.
This last point has something more behind it. The night before my presentation, a cocktail party was held to greet the lecturers and participants. At the party the head coordinator of the conference told me something to the effect of, “I don’t care what your topic is about or what you say, the thing that counts most is that you finish on time!” This was said with a laugh and a glass of wine in hand, so don’t let me give you the impression that the content of everyone’s lecture was not cared about. It was. But place yourself in the coordinator’s position: two days of 20-minute presentations to an entire group of participants. If they start to go over in time, the whole conference gets thrown off. I can tell you this: warm smiles greeted my on-time exit from the stage, and many congratulations were extended afterwards! Whether it was my talk’s content or the fact I finished on time, I’ll never know.
CEO, Clarion Safety Systems
This blog is part of a series of regular posts from our CEO, Geoffrey Peckham, to share his insight. Geoffrey serves as chair of the ANSI Z535 Committee for Safety Signs and Colors and chair of the U.S. TAG to ISO/TC 145 – Graphical Symbols. He has also been selected as a member of the U.S. TAG to ISO/PC 283, an ISO committee writing a new standard, ISO 45001 Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems, which will, when finished, define global best practices for workplace safety. In addition, he is an active member of many industry-specific standards committees related to safety signs and labels for buildings, ships, machinery and products.