Affective Impact of Warning-Signs A Study Utilizing Kansei Engineering Methodology

Rilda Schütte
Linköping University, IEI/Q, Linköping, Sweden

Simon Schütte
Linköping University, IEI/Q, Linköping, Sweden

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Publicerad: 2008-02-15


ISSN: 1650-3686 (tryckt), 1650-3740 (online)


It is commonly recognized that a scull on a black flag symbolizes “pirates” and acts thereby as a warning sign. In centuries this flag has spread fear and despair on the world oceans. It is therefore closely connected with culture that it has become a general symbol for “danger” in many other areas as well.

Amazingly; most literature on application of warning signs usually only deals with standardising shapes; size and symbols of warning signs in different contexts (compare (Executive; 1996; mekanstandardisering; 1984; Meeting; 1991). Not much work has been done evaluating how and in which way warning signs have an impact on human psyche.

A warning is an artefact. Its purpose is to evoke a suitable reaction of human beings in a certain context. This is achieved by creating a connection between the warning e.g. an abstract sign or sound signal (Edworthy and A.; 1995) and its referent (Easterby and Zwanga; 1984). The referent is a product or objective situation which under certain circumstances can be hazardous to human beings.

The warning itself has two different aspects; an iconic aspect and an informational aspect which together trigger an appropriate action. The informational aspect can be a symbol or text. The iconic aspect can be the shape; colour; symbols etc. In contrast to the informational aspect; the iconic aspect needs to be mapped and interpreted. From this information the degree of urgency is then derived.

A warning sign consists of a carrier have a certain colour or combination of different colours and a shape. Reserach shows that certain colours and combinations of colours do have an affective impact on the human mind (Edworthy and Adams; 1996). In nature; yellow/black can be found on insects siganlizing danger. Also red and orange colours are considered to do so (Edworthy and Adams; 1996). Hence those colours are preferred colours for displays or e.g.painting dangerous machines or parts of them.

Commonly; also symbols are used in order diversify the way the danger can apply. These symbols can either be descriptive (i.e. describing the hazard); prescriptive (i.e. explaining suitable behaviour) or proscriptive (i.e. forbidding certain behaviour) (Easterby and Hankeil; 1977). However these symbols does probably possess no or low emotional effect. Correct interpretation requires prior knowledge and a similar social context.


Warning sign; Affective Engineering; Affective Meaning


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