Best design on a setsuden sign

In my previous blog post, I showed a gallery of setsuden electricity-conservation signs that have been going up all over the Tokyo area. But I left out two of my favorites, including the one in the picture above. (Click on it for a larger view.) This has the best graphic design of any setsuden poster I’ve seen so far.

This poster is appears all over the Tokyo area railway system, and I see it at dozens times of on my daily commute.

Its first virtue is simplicity, with “Saving electricity” in large print in English and Japanese, with very little additional text. As for the picture, it has only two elements – a light bulb and a row of subway straps.

These two visual elements are enough to tell a story. The bulb has eyes that make it a character, and the straps place the character aboard a train. The image is not quite symmetrical, but it has an interesting balance that holds the viewer’s eye, with the single big shape of the bulb mirrored upside-down by the smaller shapes of the straps.

In keeping with popular Japanese aesthetics, the character is cute – but not overly so. The shape of its eyes makes it look modest and serene. Perhaps it’s even slumbering. No doubt the railroads hope some of these characteristics will rub off on frazzled commuters as the non-air-condititioned trains grow hotter and hotter this summer.

The cool blue color was presumably chosen for the same reason. In fact, the Japanese word for this light shade of blue is mizu-iro, which literally means “water color.”

The image is further softened and made even more soothing by the almost total absence of sharp edges. The bulb is rounded, its eyelids are gently curved, and the strap handles are perfect circles. The blue field in which these elements appear is only approximately a square, and its corners have been rounded. The English typeface has no bristly serifs. Even the naturally angular letters A, V and N in the word “saving” have had their points sanded smooth. In the Japanese text, too, the end of each stroke is round rather than square, pointed, or trailed out in a spiky brush stroke.

Admittedly, the ultra-round pattern is broken by a few 90-degree angles, such as at the tops of the straps and the base of the bulb. These look like deliberate choices to suggest that the objects continue to exist beyond the borders of the frame. But every angle that can be eliminated has been eliminated.

Next to the three large navy blue characters for “Setsuden-chuu” are two text boxes. One says “Aboard trains” and the other says “In stations.” Below that is a line of mizu-iro text that says, “Please understand and cooperate with our efforts to save electricity.” The small text below that is a list of 22 large and small railways (including two monorail lines) operating in the Kanto area.

No further information is given, presumably because not every railway will implement the same energy-saving measures. But here are some changes that I have noticed:

Lights inside backlit station signs and advertising billboards have been turned off.

Escalators have been turned off.

Schedules have been adjusted to run fewer trains. (This was especially true in the immediate post-quake rolling blackout period.)

Lighting aboard trains has been reduced, in some cases with every other fluorescent tube removed. (But there’s still enough light to read while riding.)

Air conditioning has been turned off.

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