Crocwise signs from Australia

Although all of the signs share a similar purpose, the exemplar outlined in red is the best example of universal design. This particular sign adheres to two principles of universal design in particular, these are:

Simple and intuitive. Use of the design is easy to understand, regardless of the user’s experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level.

Tolerance of error. The design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions” (Burgstahler, 2004).

Unlike the other signs, the Tourism NT (Kakadu) one is the easiest to understand because it uses simple graphics and nothing else. This sign is so simple a child could understand it. At one time the Australian government relied on signs that presented an image of a crocodile accompanied by quite a bit of English text (see the top two signs). Unfortunately foreign tourists who did not read or understand English couldn’t obey the sign and swam in crocodile infested waters. Furthermore English-speaking visitors often ignored the signs because they contained too much text or said “enter at own risk.” The signs weren’t clear or specific enough. Obviously signs like these did not minimize the hazard! Worse yet, they did not take the needs of their users into consideration.

The designers of the Kakadu sign considered the users’ perspectives and how they perceived the information being provided (Lohr, 2008, p. 6). Visuals used as support or performance tools must be easy to understand and access (Lohr, 2008, p. 64) and the designers here took this belief to heart. Colour is also used to make the most important information noticeable. The red, which signifies danger, surrounds the swimmer thereby stressing the fact that users should not swim here. Good visual aids incorporate “bold, saturated colours for easy visibility” (University of Guelph, 2005). Of course, placing the crocodile directly beneath the swimmer also reinforces the danger that exists if the user decides to swim in the area.

According to Church, “universal design implies that it could happen to me as opposed to special needs that are always someone else’s” (Welch, 1995). This simply means that designers should put themselves in the shoes of the user. When the time comes ask this: would I be able to understand this concept without some kind of specialized knowledge or experience?

Aside: I just realized that this particular grouping (along with the removal of the red border) could lend itself to a COM 1005: Visual Design lesson. (This CTS module examines the elements and principles of design.)


Burgstahler, S. (2004). Universal design of instruction. DO-IT. Retrieved from http://www.washington.edu/doit/Faculty/Strategies/Universal/

Crystal. (2012, June 9). Silly signs eleven: The Australia edition [Photograph]. Retrieved from http://cbsingapore.blogspot.ca/2012/06/silly-signs-eleven-australia-edition.html

Lohr, L. (2008). Creating graphics for learning and performance: Lessons in visual literacy (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, N.J: Pearson Education, Inc.

Mary. (2012, October 28). Crocodile safety [Photograph]. Retrieved from http://abreathoffreshair-mary.blogspot.ca/2012/10/strange-day-in-arnhem-land-northern.html

Tourism NT. (2007, January 29). Kakadu [Photograph]. Retrieved from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Kakadu_2430.jpg

University of Guelph. (2005). Visual aides for universal instructional design. Universal Instructional Design at the University of Guelph. Retrieved from http://www.uoguelph.ca/tss/uid/guides/visualaidUIDprinc.html

von Geldern, N. (2012, May 31). Saltwater crocodiles [Photograph]. Retrieved from http://www.worldwanderingkiwi.com/2012/05/australias-top-end-swimming-with-killer-crocodiles/

Welch, P. (1995). What is universal design? Strategies for Teaching Universal Design [Chapter 1]. Retrieved from http://www.udeducation.org/resources/62.html