Yuri Kozin, consultant, Russian Federation, introduces a simple new idea that could make a significant contribution to reducing traffic violations and promoting road safety
The classic variant of traffic lights – three round, coloured signal lights – has been in existence for almost 100 years. In the meantime, science and practice over recent years has proved that the geometrical forms of objects are just as significant for perception as their colour. Psychologists, designers and teachers often use this phenomenon in their practical work. Visualisation of an object, taking into parallel account its colour and form, is the most efficient method of visual perception.
Colour & form
The new traffic light design introduced in this article combines both these elements of visual information, i.e. the colour code, and a corresponding geometrical figure. This integration of colour and form facilitates perception, enabling the signals to be assimilated earlier and thus enhancing both reliability and road safety. An added advantage, of course, is that the new lights are more practical for people who are colour blind.
The image shows the design of the new generation traffic lights. They use similar colours, placed in the same hierarchy as conventional lights. In contrast, however, the shape of the red and yellow lights have been modified. The red light is now square, while the space for the yellow light foresees switchable lights in two equal triangles, one pointing towards the red light and one pointing to the green.
The advantage of this proposed technical innovation is that it enables the expressive properties of colour and form to act synchronically. The colour and form are homogenous – supporting and complementing each other. In practice, the degree of visual and psycho-emotional categorisation (identification) increases when a combination of chromatic and geometrical features are signalled.
In other words, a person sees such a signal from a longer distance more easily and identifies it more precisely, without any “phantom effects”. The new design effectively gives drivers and pedestrians more time for critical decision-making in response to traffic light commands.
Explaining the shapes
The selection of geometrical forms used in the proposed design can be explained as follows. The square, corresponding to the red stoplight, is a symbol of motionless matter. It represents heaviness and opacity. The yellow signal uses a triangle, a shape that radiates in all directions and which is associated with thought. While the square embodies a static state, the circle symbolises permanent motion, and also has a quiet, soft, calming effect.
The green and blue colours of the spectrum correspond to the permanent movement of a circle. According to the artist, Vassily Kandinsky, red corresponds to a rectangle or square, while yellow corresponds to acute angles and triangles.
A very important feature is the changing direction of the yellow triangle. This provides useful additional information by enabling the middle light to indicate in advance to which extreme – red or green – the lights will switch next.
The new traffic light concept provides for both enhanced information and reduced ambiguity in interpretation. Through their simple but innovative combination of two codes of visual information – colour and form – the new lights enable users to perceive and assimilate signals earlier and more easily. They could, thus, have a significant impact on road safety as well as help to reduce traffic violations.