A hand drawn image. The content is unclear, but the image shows light and dark patches of orange and brown
A hand drawn image. The content is unclear, but the image shows light and dark patches of orange and brown
“The First TV Image of Mars” (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Dan Goods)

The first view from Mars—made with an 80 million dollar spacecraft and a packet of pastels.


五大訴求 (’Five Key Demands’)

I recently arrived in Hong Kong, a few days after a mass march through the central business district. The event marked six months of turmoil that has fractured the city. As they marched, the protestors left hundreds of messages over the road and on walls, street signs and bus stops; even the lions guarding the Bank of China found themselves unceremoniously decorated with anti-government slogans.

After the march, the authorities ordered workers to clean away the messages. Most were painted over, but the messages on tram stops were only smeared. …


Most historians agree that Japanese writing began with the introduction of kanji from China. The offshoots hiragana and katakana appeared over time, and the modern Japanese character set was complete. But lurking on the outskirts of this history are a strange and little-known assortment of exiled characters. In Japanese, they are called jindai moji or kamiyo moji 神代文字: ‘characters of the spirit age.’

A page of Jindai Moji from the 1837 text『神代字三十六人首』

These scripts are veiled in mystery. It’s claimed they predate the introduction of kanji by several centuries. This would make them not only the first, but also the ‘most’ Japanese characters. …


Though you’ve never met Yukio Ota, you are almost certainly acquainted with his most famous creation. Professor Ota is the designer of the International Emergency Exit Symbol:

American readers may be less familiar with this outstanding work of design — Professor Ota’s symbol is another of the eminently sensible international standards that the United States has yet to embrace.

Yukio Ota is captivated by symbols. He has dedicated his life to them, and he becomes energised when he talks about them. Professor Ota’s emergency exit symbol is recognised around the world. But his life’s work is something much more ambitious: an entire language of symbols which he dreams could be the lingua franca of the 21st Century.

The name of this language is LoCoS —“Lovers’ Communication System”. The name reflects his hope…


Some of Shuetsu Sato’s hand-made signage at Nippori Station (image: Wikimedia / Mayuno)

Tokyo’s cavernous train stations seem to be permanent construction zones. There is always some part or another shrouded in white sheets and skirted by a maze of endlessly shifting temporary paths. Walk the bowels of these stations long enough and you may come across Shuetsu Sato 佐藤修悦. Sixty-five year old Sato san wears a crisp canary yellow uniform, reflective vest and polished white helmet. His job is to guide rush hour commuters through confusing and hazardous construction areas. When Sato san realised he needed more than his megaphone to perform this duty, he took it upon himself to make some…


Digitised examples of Prison Gothic characters. (Image: Road Research Society / Gary Yau)

When I first came to Hong Kong fifteen years ago, I noticed the Chinese characters on road signs looked a little odd. Chinese characters are the epitome of balance and proportion, but the Chinese writing on these street signs was often lop-sided or slightly awkward. They may not be graceful, but these characters certainly have character. Their flaws and quirks have an energy and charm that calls attention to the work of the sign-writer. I wondered, who lettered these signs? Not a professional typographer. Certainly not a master calligrapher. …


Recently on a flight from Japan, with not much to do but sketch or get up to use the restroom, I got to thinking about the restroom symbol. Why does this pictogram say ‘women and men’? Shouldn’t it simply say ‘restroom’? It imposes stereotypes that make way-finding illogical and validate discrimination. So shouldn’t we improve it?

Here is the outcome, along with some of my thoughts on the process.

Chris Gaul

Designer » www.chrisgaul.net

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