5 of the worst examples of design on Elon University’s campus

Tragically, bad design is everywhere, and Elon is not immune

Recently, I was walking across Elon’s campus to pick up a prize for completing an environmental sustainability initiative (I got some collapsible Tupperware!), when I noticed a particularly bad example of graphic design.

It was one of those automatic door stickers, the bright yellow ones that have CAUTION written on them in all caps. But what really surprised me was that when reading the sticker, it read “automatic caution door” which doesn’t make any sense. It should read “Caution. Automatic door.”

It was one of those things that I’ve never really noticed before, but now that I have, I can’t believe that a sticker that makes so little sense was allowed to be manufactured and placed on doors everywhere.

So in the name of design, I set off around campus to see if there were other particularly bad examples of graphic design and, no surprises here, there were plenty.

What follows are my top 5 favorite bad examples, and how I would make them more effective.

  1. The “Automatic caution door” sign

This is the aforementioned sticker. They’re everywhere. And they’re terribly designed. I have no idea how these were allowed to be produced, and they should probably get redesigned.

A great way to fix this would be to have “CAUTION” on top in reverse type with the words “AUTOMATIC DOOR” beneath it in black in a thinner weight. Then it would read properly and have a better flow and sense of hierarchy.

2. Recycle vs. trash

I’m fairly confused about how this came to be, because Elon is usually pretty good at labeling their recycling. But if someone is walking down the street and they’re looking at the can from above, it would be very difficult to tell which can is recycling and which one is trash because the label is so close to the bottom of the can. And the fact that the “Re” in recycle has been ripped off doesn’t help either.

This could easily be fixed by putting the words recycle at the top of the can, and changing the lining in the trash can to blue so that it’s easily recognizable as a recycling can, even without seeing the sign.

3. “Push to exit”

I’m embarrassed to say that this example comes straight from the Elon News Network newsroom. Both of the doors in our office require students to swipe their Phoenix cards to get in, and while most doors on Elon’s campus let students out without swiping, these doors do not. So I have walked up to the door, pulled on it (just as the little sign tells you to do) only to have the door remain firmly shut before remembering that there is a small green button way off to the left of the handle that you have to push to open the door. It’s completely bizarre.

While the best fix for this would be to simply get rid of the doors being locked from the inside, another way to redo this would at least be to move the door handle to the left side so that it’s much closer to the button, making it easier for people to see while attempting to open the door.

4. The invisible smoke free sign

I’ve walked past this sign dozens, if not hundreds, of times on campus and never noticed it. And while the copper color is quite beautiful, whoever designed it did not realize that it would blend in extremely well with the bricks that it was placed on. It also doesn’t help that it’s quite small, and the white text doesn’t contrast that much from the copper background, which makes this very important sign all to easy to miss.

The sign could easily be improved by making it black with a gold font and increasing the size of both the “no smoking” icon and the text beside it. And I would stack the icon on top of the text so that it could still fit in the slim space on the side of the entryway.

5. The “Everything is the same font size” sign

This sign isn’t the worst sign out there, but it certainly doesn’t do anything to draw your eye to the important information on it. The most important piece of info on it, the name of the gallery, is exactly the same size font as everything else on it. While it is in all caps, it still gets lost at the top of the sign because there are so many words beneath it.

An easy way to fix this would be to make the font size of “WARD GALLERY” much larger, and then keep all of the rest of the text in the smaller font size and run it beneath “WARD GALLERY” in longer lines. They could still keep the name of the Mr. and Mrs. Clyde Maxwell Ward in all caps, but by leaving it at a smaller font size, it wouldn’t overtake the name of the gallery.