A couple weeks ago I presented at BIL LA on some nicely-engineered aspects of Japanese society that I noticed when I was in Tokyo, recently.

One thing from the trip that really struck me was what I call “manners propaganda”. Tokyo subways are full of this stuff. Friendly messages encouraging people to observe good manners. Things like “offer your seat to a mother with children”, etc… Here’s an example.

Screen Shot 2018-07-05 at 2.41.31 PM.pngFor contrast, here’s what “manners propaganda” looks like on BART in San Francisco.


Notice how different the tone is. RED CAPITAL LETTERS. Drab colors. Curt commands.

Putting aside how dystopian the design is on BART, the concept of manners propaganda is great. It’s an instance of what Donald Norman calls “knowledge in the world” (see The Design of Everyday Things—dense, but good). People get busy. They can forget that holding the doors inconveniences all the other riders. The sign reminds them.

We could use more of these reminders. When people merge lanes on highways, there’s always someone who doesn’t know how to “zipper” properly. The State of Minnesota explains how to merge on their website. But who is going to go that website? There should be traffic signs indicating how to merge properly.

Where else would manners propaganda be useful? 🤔

Here’s the full talk, if you’re into this sort of thing.