The other day I came across two unfriendly signs in Hackney which made me think about how off-putting and counterproductive such negative signage can be. One restaurant on Mare Street had a big notice in the window saying: ‘Toilets for customer use only!’ Good luck to them in getting customers; I certainly won’t be one.
A shoe shop on the same road had a sign saying: ‘FREE Ride in a Police Car for anyone caught shoplifting’. Very funny... It left a bad taste in my mouth and made me not want to buy from there. Not that it made me consider stealing, but they’re almost asking for it. Of all places I’d want to see shoplifted, it’s up there.
In 2003, libraries in Tower Hamlets (as they continue to be in many places) were too old-fashioned and full of rules. ‘No running, no food and drink, no mobile phones, no talking...’ Sometimes they told you not to do things you’d never in a million years dream of doing. My dad became involved in Idea Stores, which you now see in Bow, Whitechapel, Canary Wharf and Poplar: modern libraries which combine libraries with learning, offering courses from French to cooking to Bollywood Dance as well as a range of food in cafés. As a result of all this, library user figures – dropping nationwide, leading to many closures – have risen in Tower Hamlets by 50%. Sorry to spend so long plugging them, but to me they prove the point about the unhelpfulness of unfriendly signs and how effective a lack of rules and regulations can be.
Put these signs up and not only can they create an uncomfortable atmosphere, they’ll make people actually think about the things they forbid – maybe it will lead to the odd person breaking the rules on purpose. Rules don’t cross anyone’s mind if you don’t have them. Don’t put up such signs and people won’t think about doing the things they prohibit. You might say this means they’ll be neglectful, but how much clumsier would this actually make them? People wouldn’t purposefully spill a drink at home; nor do they in Idea Stores where drinks near computers are permitted.
Maybe not everyone’s so put off and repulsed by the negative signage I’ve talked about as myself, but I still can’t help feeling they hinder the shops, restaurants and institutions that put them up more than they help them. Is it worth stopping folk coming in to your restaurant to ask to use the bathroom for the negative impression such unfriendly notices create?