Human-Centered Parking Signs Ease the Pain for Drivers

Designer Nikki Sylianteng may have revolutionized the world of confusing parking signs
March 27, 2019 Updated: March 27, 2019

NEW YORK—Among all the frustrations urban drivers experience—permanent traffic jams, ambulances screeching by, and the risk of having your bumpers bumped—parking signs are definitely one of the biggest headaches.

For many, an encounter with a convoluted parking sign might end with a parking ticket or a Twitter rant aimed at the Department of Transportation.

That’s not the case, however, for Nikki Sylianteng, a product and interaction designer who felt the pain herself but transformed it into a design so smart that cities from Columbus, Ohio to Brisbane, Australia have piloted her design on their streets.

Everything started with several $75 parking tickets Sylianteng got while living in L.A. She did an entire research project on why parking signs are so confusing and couldn’t come up with an answer. So as a design student, Sylianteng made her own humanly understandable version of the sign as her graduation project at the School of Visual Arts in New York City.

Parking sign design by Nikki Sylianteng
Parking sign design by Nikki Sylianteng in the eyes of the color blind

The idea looks quite simple. It’s basically, in Sylianteng’s word, a spreadsheet. The horizontal axis is for the seven days in a week, and the vertical for the hours in a day. Green means you can park, and red means you can’t. The design is also friendly to color-blinded drivers, distinguishing no-park times from allowed times by adding stripes.

“The current way it was designed, it’s from a very city point of view,” Sylianteng said, noting that signs contain a lot of unnecessary information about school days, street cleaning, and such. They focus too much on “why” when drivers really need to know “what.”

While designing, Sylianteng tried as much as possible to put herself in the shoes of drivers. “Just be thoughtful,” she said.

Then, she printed out her spreadsheets and stuck them under existing parking signs near her Brooklyn apartment. She also left a blank space under the signs and Sharpies to let people comment.

“I got a comment like: the mayor should hire you.” Sylianteng said.

The media picked it up after Sylianteng tweeted out her little “survey result.” First, it was Business Insider, then The Atlantic, Fox News, Wired, Gizmodo, and more.

Then, Los Angeles City Council Transportation Committee officially piloted the parking sign in its Downtown area in June 2015.

“A couple people that I know sent me posting signs from Downtown L.A., saying ‘Oh this saved me!’”Sylianteng said.

She was also informed that L.A. will be rolling out her signs to the entire city this year.

Sylianteng’s design also got attention outside of the United States. After a 3-month trial, Brisbane, Australia announced in November 2015 that they found an “upto 60 percent improvement” in terms of compliance with parking rules (meaning, less tickets), according to the Lord Mayor Graham Quirk, reported the Brisbane Times.

“This has resulted in less confusion and fewer parking fines for motorists,” the mayor said.

(Courtesy to Nikki Sylianteng)

The design also went viral online. People start tagging Sylianteng on Twitter whenever they came across a confusing parking sign. She would then solve the puzzle on paper, drawing one of her signs, and tweet back to those calling for help. “I’m running a parking sign hotline,” Sylianteng said.

Right now, Sylianteng keeps paying attention to little designs that feel counterintuitive to her in the city, like the arrows on the ground of the entrance to the subway. “There are things that shouldn’t be so complicated but are complicated in our world. I enjoy solving problems like that.”

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