February 25, 2010  |  Artists, Collection & Exhibitions, Design
Signs of Life: The Life of the Exit Man

Freddie Yauner. Signs of Life. 2007-09. © Freddie Yauner

Signs of Life, the animated pictographic exit sign by British designer Freddie Yauner, takes the most banal everyday object—something that we see daily but rarely notice—and brings it to life.

Signs of Life is a sensor-controlled, three-minute flash-animation sign featuring the familiar mid-motion stick figure following a directive arrow that points to the way out. When no one is around the fellow breaks free. He falls from his one-legged action stance, looks about, stretches, goes into a closet, pulls out a television and lounger, and gets his girlfriend to join him as they catch a catnap or catch up on their shows. He gets some down time, and we get a glimpse at the secret life of objects. Then, movement in the range of the sensor causes our guy to sense that someone’s coming; he shushes his girlfriend away, quickly tosses the furniture into the closet, and rushes back to his exit action-pose.

Freddie Yauner. Signs of Life. 2007-09. © Freddie Yauner

The word pictogram brings to my mind images of terracotta bison and horses on the walls of Lascaux, or the Anasazi “red hands” found in the Four Corners of the American Southwest. Like those pictograms, Signs of Life is drawn in the visual language of its time—the DOT pictograms, a system of visual symbols developed by the Department of Transportation; and the ISO 7001, a standardized system of globally recognized public-information symbols developed by the International Organization for Standardization.

Though I’ve never been to Lascaux and rarely get to the Four Corners, it’s unusual for me to go a day without encountering a DOT pictogram or an ISO symbol. Modern pictograms are so common they go unnoticed; Signs of Life brings them back into focus.

Signs of Life is currently on view in Action! Design over Time in MoMA’s architecture and design galleries.