Facial expression is a universal language. That fact has not been lost on designers of informational signs and posters, who use highly simplified faces to communicate to a broad audience without the use of words.
It's refreshing to see such emoji-based signage well done, as in the Food Safety Rating chart, shown in Figure 2. Published by the Public Health Department of King County (where I live), these signs warn customers about the food safety practices and number of violations cited for a restaurant's kitchen. I have no quarrel with the designer's facial expression progression from Neutral, to Slightly Happy, to Very Happy, to Laughing. It's very readable and it easily tells me which establishments to patronize, or avoid.
food safety signs for customers to read prior to entering an establishment. In a beta version of the poster,
all of the eyes were simple dots but, based on crowd-sourced research, the designers gave the two "happiest" establishments smiling eyes which improved public recognition.
At lower levels of pain, the discomfort appears on the face as a sort of vague distress, somewhere between sadness and worry. At higher levels of pain, the signs are much more unambiguous – violently squinted eyes, lowered brows, and a mouth radically compressed, shouting, or with clenched teeth barred. I have created an alternate version of the chart based on actual states of pain in Figure 4.
FAIGIN FACE LIFT
Pain involves partly or completely closed eyes; in all the stages, Here, the eye is Hyper-Alert. The eyebrows are in a very slight distress pattern (which stays the same for the next few stages), but the mouth is smiling, rather than distressed.
Slight pain does not have a signature look. Here mild distress – sadness is close – is a reasonable version.
This is the best face of the sequence, which is not saying much. The frowning mouth goes with the distressed brow. We could call this slight discomfort
These last three faces are particular to the expression of pain. Here the eyes are squinted, the brow is scowling, and the mouth is tightly compressed.
The weird (rather original) tilted-arc eyebrows do not make the eye look the slightest bit more distressed than the previous face. The only difference is a more frowning mouth. This is pain at near-maximum?
The face shows a more intense squint and scowl, with the lips pulled back, and the teeth clenched.
to his own version of facial expressions of states of pain (right).
- Eye Highlight: I took out the eye highlight as a distracting and unnecessary graphic element.
- Confident: A symmetrical smile with eyes gently closed expresses confidence/self-satisfaction much more clearly than the generic half-smile in the original chart.
- Skeptical: Skepticism is not a real expression; it requires context to be interpreted. There is no expert consensus on what this face should look like. I can't quite decipher the two dark shapes at the mouth level; a moustache?
- Scared: The expression of fear requires a mouth stretched wide at the lower lip, eyes visibly widened. The mouth shape in original poster is not bad for anger, but the wrong shape for fear.
- Ecstatic: This is what I call the "eager smile." My main change is to make the eyes visibly widened, which adds intensity and excitement.
- Sad: The eyes should be visibly narrowed from above, and the frowning mouth should be more strongly drawn.
- Angry: The scowling brow in the original poster does not drop low enough to register clearly, and the frowning mouth is too slight to overcome the ambiguity of the eyes.
- Mischievous: The expression of the cartoon villain. Closed-mouth smile and scowling brows. Completely unclear in original poster.
- Happy: The difference between the two versions speaks for itself. Love those compressed eyes!
- Enraged: The eyes in the original poster are okay, but the mouth shape is bizarre. Exaggeration only works if the artist exaggerates in right direction. Here the dogleg where the mouth stretches down and to the right doesn’t correspond to anything anatomical. My mouth has a slight snarl, and eye/brow configuration is given more clarity as anger.
No matter what the level of stylization, a familiarity with the specifics of expression can radically improve the readability of the message. Well-designed simplified faces may not be great at subtlety, but they definitely do well in clarity.
Figure 8. GOOD - Are you driving above or below the speed limit? No speed number is required.
Figure 9. GOOD - Unhappy, Stop, Neutral, Caution and Happy, Go!
Figure 10. "3 km" NOT GOOD ("2 km" and "1 km" are fine) - "Nog" means "still" or "more" in these amusing construction slowdown signs used in Austria, Germany and the Netherlands.
Figure 11. GOOD - Found in a railroad bathroom in Paris, this sign asks patrons, who paid to enter, to push the button that best describes the cleanliness of the toilets. The decision to use "dot" eyes and a straight-line mouth for the neutral face, and then to reverse the occlusion of the eyes and the arc of the mouth for the smiling and frowning faces is both simple and effective.