Emergency, This Way Please

Two years ago my friend was diagnosed with breast cancer, she is Farah's best friend and business partner. I feel we all got diagnosed with cancer.

We were with her at the hospital today for an emergency check up, and while wandering in the cold waiting area that is furnished in bright hues of beiges and sand leather and beach wood, I walked up to the randomly placed water cooler, right behind where the door handle would hit if the door is wide open, and above it was an architectural floor plan of the hospital floor we were on highlighting emergency exits. I would think the only time anyone would give it any attention is when they're waiting for the cooler to fill their little flimsy plastic cups with water. The layout read poorly. I imagined the person who was tasked with getting this done, I imagined them thinking that an architectural layout was to be printed with a green generic exit sign placed on top of the emergency exits, a thing only required by the municipality and the ministry of health. After initially noticing very poor lineweight rendering the drawing non-readable, my eyes adjusted and I spent about two minutes trying to figure out where I was in that floor plan, after that I lost interest and went back to my chair.

As an escape from my temporary extreme discomfort, I was thinking of that layout and how patients and visitors would read it and what would they do in case of a tragic situation. In cases of emergency, we behave very much like primates, we panic, we kick into survival mode, very few people rationalize the best possible solution in very little time, and when it comes time to execute the rapid contingency plan their mind came up with, it is contrasted by the irrational chaos. In these cases, who wants to spend three minutes when they see and smell smoke looking at a flat architectural layout? I believe a group of instructions that are communicated graphically in an innovative way would instruct us immediately how to behave. Text is such a powerful tool sometimes, and a word in that moment would speak louder than a thousand images. While architectural drawings best reflect the spatial dimension, the reality of an emergency is very different from the reality where that layout was produced.

These realities have to be analysed carefully by an authority or a governmental body charged with assessing the graphical communication in public spaces, billboards on roads, schools classrooms, fire emergency staircases, tunnels and pedestrian crossings. Who would want to read fine print on an ad placed on a billboard on a highway? Who is to blame in case of bad emergency measures?