LOOK! is a city campaign aimed at reminding distracted New Yorkers to pay attention on the road.

A print ad suggests distracted New Yorkers look left and right. ”Mom was right. Look before you cross the street.”

Designed by Pentagram, the campaign’s centerpiece is a bold Helvetica slogan, with two eyeballs for Os.

In addition to crosswalk decals, a series of print ads accompany.

The ads feature the eyes of Pentagram and DOT employees, "looking both ways."

“We knew we needed a solution really simple, and that it would need to be visible and memorable despite its ubiquity,” says Pentagram partner Michael Bierut.

“LOOK! really appealed to me because it seemed like a solution that a second grader could have come up with," he adds.

The ads target the most congested parts of the city.

“The exclamation point makes it a little more assertive,” Bierut explains.

Pentagram hopes LOOK! will end up as an iconic New York symbol--a “Mind the Gap” for Manhattan.

Eventually, sticker versions of the message will also be installed on the inside of all 13,000 New York City cab doors, warning passengers to check if they’re about to door a cyclist.

Co.Design

Pentagram And New York City Attempt To Redesign Pedestrian Behavior

A clever campaign calling for pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers to pay attention pops up in New York’s busiest intersections this month.

New York City streets have changed a lot in the five years since Janette Sadik-Khan was appointed Transportation Commissioner. We have more bike lanes, more pedestrian zones, and more signage. Unfortunately, thanks to gruesome statistical logic, we also have more traffic deaths. Rather than blame pedestrians, drivers, or NYPD officers, Sadik-Khan’s office is waging a quiet proxy war against a more insidious type of danger: distraction.

Last week, Sadik-Khan and her federal counterpart, Ray LaHood, unrolled a design-savvy campaign that sends a simple message to New Yorkers: LOOK! Installed on crosswalks all over the city and plastered to buses, the bold Helvetica slogan (complete with googly eyes) attempts grab the attention of smartphone-gazing, chicken-playing pedestrians. Sticker versions of the message will also be installed on the inside of all 13,000 New York City cabs, warning passengers to check if they’re about to door a cyclist (similar stickers have been the standard in other cities for years). A print campaign shows snippets of eyes (DOT and Pentagram employees, actually) looking left and right. ”Mom was right. Look before you cross the street.”

The ads were designed by a Pentagram team led by partner Michael Bierut, who spoke to Co.Design about the challenging design problem of affecting deeply ingrained behaviors with only a split second to work with. It’s one thing to add a crosswalk to an intersection. It’s quite another to get pedestrians to pay attention to it. “We were impressed by the 2011 Curbside Haiku project [the DOT] did with artist John Morse,” Bierut says, referring to the funny poems the DOT installed streetside last year. “That seemed to point the way towards using unexpected tactics to capture the attention of busy New Yorkers.”

“We knew we needed a really simple solution, and that it would need to be visible and memorable despite its ubiquity,” he explains. “LOOK! really appealed to me because it seemed like a solution that a second grader could have come up with. Some of my favorite designs are like that.” Pentagram’s concept was accepted by the DOT almost on the spot. “The exclamation point makes it a little more assertive,” he adds. “And New York-y: Look here, buddy!" Bierut says he hopes LOOK! will end up as an iconic New York symbol—a “Mind the Gap” for Manhattan.

Bierut and Sadik-Khan are helping to pave (sorry) a "third way" in New York’s current hot-button topic. Step out onto a Manhattan street today, and odds are you’ll see a couple cyclists, drivers, or pedestrians hurling insults at each other. Hell, a driver who cut off a cyclist incited a mass riot earlier this month. Which puts the DOT in a tough spot: how do you change dangerous behavior, without seeming prescriptive or biased?

The answer seems to lie in design, and to a certain degree, a sense of humor. Like John Morse’s Curbside Haikus, which made fun of everyone involved:

Aggressive driver
Aggressive pedestrian
Two crash test dummies

Like the haikus, LOOK! is a clever way to remind us of basic standards of civility we learned as kids (and seem to have since forgotten): Be nice to people, don’t take yourself too seriously, and please, look both ways.

[H/t Gothamist]

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20 Comments

  • jacob_Somers

    If the city is going so far as to use these, they might as well be done as best it can be. It seems more like an add than an actual safety sign. 
    These sort of caution signs are all over London (at least near the tourist heavy places), but they put them at the beginning at the cross walk, you see them before you start to walk and they mention where the cars are coming from, which just tempts you to look before you cross (legally or not).

  • Chip Chaunamom

    These designs work as intended and are nice but to me this is in the same category as the tags on irons that say "Caution! Iron is hot". Please stop adding to the "Stupidifaction of America".

  • doublecitrus

    The first few times I crossed where these "Look" signs were placed, I also looked at the paint on the road rather than the road.  I was thinking, "What is this? Who put this here?" And I noticed the people around me were doing the same.  So I don't know if it will serve as more distraction or reminder.

    But perhaps I was so interested and confused because I first encountered the word in the very same crosswalk were a pedestrian was famously plowed down by a garbage truck while crossing with the walk signal. It was an incident witnessed by dozens and clearly caused by the impatience and recklessness of the driver.  Seeing "LOOK" in that crosswalk seemed to imply that if you are hit as a pedestrian, it must be your own fault for not looking. It pained me to see that, and I didn't even personally know the woman who was killed there.  

  • Paulo

    Very identical "LOOK" messages (with the eyeballs for O's) are painted on crosswalks here in Vancouver, Canada. Not sure if Pentagram made the ones here but they've been around for years.

  • Joe Nicklo

    I'm a fan of this campaign's effort. I don't see the poster/signage being as effective as the ground signage or cab stickers. 

  • Iva Kravitz

    Good timing, since the Times reports that traffic deaths in the city have increased this year for cyclists and pedestrians for the first time in years. Hopefully this will be an effective program.

  • monirom

    Kudos to the city and Pentagram for the forward thinking work. However like many have mentioned, in a city rife with ad messages and visual cues all fighting for the walkers attention, it may get lost, or fade into the walkers memory after the novelty wears off.

    Its doubly important that drivers be vigilant as well - otherwise with both drivers and pedestrians distracted you'll always have a situation of contributory negligence. Overall it is the individual's responsibility to keep themselves safe. Put down the phone and look up to see where you're going, pay attention to what you're doing.

  • Joe Nicklo

    I think the key to this campaign is the "LOOK" on the actual street. So many people have their faces plastered to their smartphones while walking through the city and that's a big reason as to why deaths have increased. People are not paying attention.

    You cant put a price tag on a life so if this campaign saves even one life, it's more than worth it.

  • SaraBirdUWE

    I echo the comments - 'nice' campaign but how much do marketing savvy pedestrians or taxi users really pay attention to ads in this busy environment? How about technologies that require a double click and audio 'look' on a cab door as a subtle reminder to look before opening, or visuals where the eyes open as pedestrians step on a roadside pad? Would generate way more PR, way more cut through and perhaps way more behaviour change. Let's get imaginative...

  • Mike Williams

    I've been teaching my 3 year old to look both ways before we cross the street. Recently he spotted one of these LOOK marks before I did, and we both ended up looking down at it as we stepped off the curb, rather than continuing to look both ways for traffic. Hopefully for others it has been more of a discussion point or reminder, though I fear it may end up being just another distraction in the road.

  • Paul McCarthy

    I like this campaign as an idea, but question how effective it will be - if you're the sort of idiot who walks while tweeting / cuts up cyclists in your SUV / cycles through pedestrian crossings then a campaign that relies on you leaving your self-absorbed bubble for long enough to read a message on the pavement may be beyond you. Good idea about the taxi doors though....

  • OrionAdvertising

    The last time I was in London, I was almost killed because I was looking the wrong way! This is a brilliant, quintessentially Pentagram solution.

  • Linda

     Susan- - In London, many, but not all crosswalks near tricky intersections and curving streets have "look left" or similar warnings on the street right near the curb as you look down to step onto the street. It has helped me in several situations. Hope it works in sensory overloaded New York.