“Wide Right Turn”Collection Covered in AIGA

Here’s a great article on the AIGA blog– “Keep on Truckin’, With Caution” that covers the design of wide right turn signs. The author covers my collection and my email convo with Mark Bender pretty extensively:

Others have taken an interest in these truck decals, too. Not long ago I came across a web site and collection created by an author and software developer named Dan O’Neil, who is also fascinated with the “Wide Right Turn” signs and assembled a Flickr set and a web site.O’Neil says he has “a primary and lasting” obsession with the signs. He appears to be interested in them for reasons similar to mine: their variety. Like me, he sees a wider pattern in these mundane messages. He loves “annotated compilations and manic compendiums,” which he says demonstrate “the role of variation in a capitalist society” and his compendium of signs is one of these.The signs belong to the category of what O’Neil terms “Derivative Works.” They are part of an American “love affair with differentiation [that] extends to everything we choose—cars (big, small, real big, super big), houses (great room in front, great room in back, vinyl windows, center staircase), toothbrushes, credit cards, everything.”In 2006, O’Neil received an email from a man who claims to have designed the first, or at least one of the first, signs. The man, Mark Bender, lives in Scotland, but was born in Texas. He believes he drafted the first wide-right-turn sign 30 years ago for a truck company in San Antonio now called R&L Carriers; the firm also planned to sell the signs to other companies. Bender said he was paid a fee of $500. He moved to Scotland, and more than fifteen years later, he returned to the United States to find his signs and many like them on highways everywhere.

More right-turn signs, using  red X's and starbursts.More right-turn signs, using red X’s and starbursts.

In his email Bender told O’Neil about his background in drafting—he was the son of an architect and inherited his love of perspective, which may account for the exaggerated perspective of the sign. He is proud of adding an image to the words, Bender wrote: “At the time, the idea of putting an image that ‘showed you’ the problem was unheard of.”The part of the design of which Bender was proudest is also the one I find most delightful: the little red graphic representing a crash. He calls it a “starburst.”“My favorite bit is the crazy explosion bit where the car and the truck collide!” he noted. “I always loved the POW! and WAM! from Batman, the television show.” I knew from my time on the road just what Bender meant.Bender’s claim sounds legitimate, but how many others could have been working similarly on signs, with slightly different design approaches? It would be easy to read the variety of signs as a parable of competition against government standardization in design—except that the winner would be clear. The effectiveness of the competing private creations is that they do get your attention without being pretty, elegant or “well designed.” They are charming and human. They are like signs an amateur like me would devise. But there is a small flash of creativity to each one of these, a little firecracker of an idea.Call it the starburst effect.