What do you see on the road when you drive from Gyeonggi-do to Seoul? A sign that says “Welcome to Seoul,” of course. What do you see when you walk onto the Ewha campus? A sign that says, “Please refrain from unauthorized entry,” plus a bunch of icons with big red lines drawn over them.
I don’t know about you, but for me, even though I assume I’m “authorized,” my feeling is not good. True, Ewha isn’t a city or a place of business. But, jeez, couldn’t it just be a little bit more friendly?
Yes, I realize that the signs were put up in response to a specific problem—sometimes visitors disrupted classes or took photographs that made students feel self-conscious. But just having signs up didn’t seem to solve any problems with visitors. We actually saw a reduction in problems only after automatic door locks and gates for people with Ewha IDs were installed. So the main problem was actually one of traffic-direction, rather than discouraging visitors per se. Now the signs are still there, but I think they give our school a bad image.
For our visitors, and for us, I propose better signs.
Research in technical communication tells us that people aren’t very open to new information, so our initial message should be brief, simple, and clear. If we want to tell people that they’re welcome guests, but, at the same time, we don’t want them to disrupt classes, we should use clear and active language. But the existing “refrain from unauthorized entry” is overly complex (big words non-native English speakers aren’t likely to know—though I’m not sure if the same problem applies to the Chinese text) and also sounds sarcastic in its excessive politeness. Here are my proposals for something better:
At the Front Gate: Welcome to Ewha! Please stay in public areas.
On Building Doors: Quiet! Classes are in session.
And if we want to be even more ambitious, perhaps we can replace all those don’t-do-it icons on the front gate sign with a list or map that highlight places we actually want people to go: the visitor center, the art museum, the natural history museum, the historical museum, and the bottom floor of the ECC.
Aside from technical communication concerns, research from marketing and from social engineering (“nudging”) is also clear: People respond better and identify more closely with the values in a message when encouraged to make positive choices. They don’t usually want to cooperate when it seems like you’re trying to take things away from them. The new signs would be doubly good because they would not only encourage people to take positive steps to avoid disrupting classes (perhaps self-police disruptive members of their group), but also encourage them to actively visit and enjoy the things we do want them to see (and perhaps buy more Ewha-branded merchandise as well) rather than to take a quick look at the campus and get out.
At the same time, this change in signage will make a change in the way we imagine campus visitors—we will see them as partners, not as part of a problem. That should make all of us feel better about ourselves and happier about our campus atmosphere.
Now (March, 2020, hit by the coronavirus panic), it’s ironic that no one will be on campus until the beginning of April, and maybe no one will even be reading this essay—at least not with a hard copy of the newspaper in hand.
But when you do arrive on campus, it would be nice if the first thing that meets your eye is not a sign saying “Please refrain from unauthorized entry,” but one that says “Welcome to Ewha!”