FREAK Shots: Compel Them With Empathy

A recent FREAK Shot sparked a series of photo submissions and comments about the best way for a sign to get people to do what it’s asking.

In this video, Wired contributing editor Daniel Pink claims the most effective signs appeal to people’s empathies and don’t just give a command. (HT: Ross)

He recommends, for example, preempting “Pick up after your dog,” with “Children play here.”

Here are more sign photos sent in by readers. (Send your FREAK-worthy photos (signs and otherwise) here.)

Which would you be most — or least — inclined to heed?

INSERT DESCRIPTIONLaura Seay, HIV prevention, Congo.


Saw a sign infront of a pub in UK.
"Underage drinkers will be killed and eaten "


A lawnmower repair shop (where there's a fire risk due to gasoline vapors) in Seattle has the following sign:

If we see you smoking,
we will assume you are on fire,
and put you out.


Is that "No Cruising" sign from Myrtle Beach? If not, there's one just like it here and I did indeed drive by it twice to read the whole thing when I first saw it. (And then boggle over why such a thing could be against the law before I "got it.")

The drive carefully one is most effective to me. Takes an already established sign and makes a point with it. Very cool.

I also agree with another commenter upthread that the construction zone signs saying "please be careful, my daddy works here" are extremely effective--enough that I remember that phrase every time I pass through a construction zone with workers present. A good thing.

Mrs. H.

My favorite of all time was at a Baptist church in my southern hometown: "Parking for church members only. Violators will be baptized." No! Anything but that!


I agree with #1. The strange number makes you think, too.


The "Use of cameras prohibited" sign just begs to have its picture taken!

Dane Cao

The first one.
The $ sign catches eyes instantly.

there's a reason why the "fine" is smaller than the dollar sign and number...


I agree that the "No cruising" sign is ineffective for being too long. Red Light Violation and No Cameras are probably most effective at encouraging compliance simply because they are simple and direct.

I am reminded of odd British street signs, however. My favorite said "Changed Priorities Ahead," which always made one think. (The street ahead went from two ways to one way, which, um, I wish had been clearer the first time I saw it.) Then there was "Dogs Must Not Foul the Verge." I was doing graduate work in English, and I barely understood that. Far more florid than "Dog poop? You scoop!"


Um, the "No cruising" sign. I think for the very reason that I don't know why someone would be driving repeatedly past that point in the middle of the night (drugs? hookers? homosexual encounters?) I'll be sure to avoid doing so. Then again, if I was intending to engage in "whatever" I probably wouldn't let the sign stop me.

I once unwittingly got mixed up in homosexual encounters in a certain park after dark. This was a very awkward 5 minutes while I hurried to the exit. I assure you, if such a vaguely suggestive sign had been present to spark my curiosity - and worst fears - I never would have entered that park.


The impact sign is a great one. Seen those over Seattle, so it might be familiarity that draws me to it.


Singapore has some of the most memorable signage I've seen. The "No Trespassing" sign featuring one stick figuring firing a rifle into the back of another as he attempts to flee was particularly effective in getting its point across.

Luis B.

The no cruising sign seems too long to read, you may have come back and read it again, thus defeating the purpose of the sign.


I'm sorry I don't have photos here of the signs but effective signs I've seen:

Childish lettering on an orange highway sign in a construction zone:

Construction zone
please drive slowly
my daddy works here

A common sign along the fence outside of the Toronto Transit Commission subway yards:

(a stick figure falling over with sparks flying)
Danger: Trespassers may be electrocuted

And my all time favorite on a building in Ottawa whose owners had a problem with unauthorized parking:

Car missing? Call Gervais Towing at xxx-xxxx


I'd be least likely to listen to the sign that says "no cruising" for the simple reason that I wouldn't read more than half of it. It's a street sign, not an academic paper.

Also, is that THE Al Roth?


I would be least likely to heed the No Cruising sign, because I would frankly be ticked off that the government would try and prevent me, as a licensed insured driver, from safely using the pubvlic roads that my tax dollars have paid for as I see fit. I don't see how they could enforced it or have it stand up in court anyway.

Also I don't understand the camera company apparently targeting the people who have already passed them up and recently bought a popular camera. And mocking them for doing so.

Mac McFatter

I remamber a sign in a small town in Texas I saw many years ago. (more than 50) (Now that is memorable or what?)

It was located at the city limits and said
"30 mph or 30 dollars".


The Nat'l Lampoon used to have a page dedicated to pictures of actual signs submitted by their readers. You'd have the usual "Curl Up and Dye" salon, etc., but the funniest one was the front door of a Planned Parenthood office. Below the stenciled Planned Parenthood was a sign advising "All Deliveries in Rear".


During major highway construction in Oklahoma City I saw signs that said


Got my attention. Wish I had a picture.


I'm not sure I'd actually follow any of these (unless they were rules, like not driving into small children, that I already intended to follow). The flying kids with their lunchboxes is more entertaining than thought-provoking. Someone at the graphic design store having a boring day?

My favorite is one I've seen at a few smaller shops, it reads:


I have a friend that lives in the Mission distict of San Francisco, down the street from a nieghborhood bar. To combat the inevitable urinating against her side door, she put up a shrine to the Virgin Mary on said door. Worked like a charm.