A history of room escapes – where did the international exit sign (or the green running man) come from?

a history of room escapes

A history of room escapes – the international exit sign

The international green exit sign which has a person running towards a door has become a mascot of sorts for the room escape industry. Indeed at least two room escape bloggers (Exit Games UK and Hemos Salido) use it as part of their official avatar.

Every time I see the green exit sign, I started getting curious – how was it chosen to become the universal sign to indicate this way to exit a room?exit_sign1

In the 1970s, the Japanese fire safety department held a national competition and encourage people to submit their drawings and vision of what an exit sign should be. The purpose of the competition was to find an exit sign that could be implemented throughout Japan. After testing exit signs that were submitted as part of the competition, the winner was chosen – Yukio Ota – who had created a green exit sign which showed a man running towards a door.

Over time Yukio Ota worked closely with the organisers of the fire safety competition to alter his sign after recommendations were made.
“The goal, Ota recalls, was to suggest that people should “run slowly.” – Slate

Then around 1980, ISO (the International Organisation for Standardization) was looking at standardising symbols and had already considered implementing an exit sign submission from the Russian delegation. However the Japanese delegation asked ISO to look at their exit sign submission before they went ahead with their first choice.

Eventually ISO decided on their final choice for an international exit sign and in 1985, the exit sign submission from Japan was ultimately chosen for international usage. The exit sign submission from Russia can be seen in the image below to the left while the Japanese delegation’s exit sign can be seen as the image to the right.

exit_sign2                                                           Image Credit: Slate

Without any collaboration or knowledge about the exit sign each country was working on both Japan and Russia managed to come up with very similar ideas. When Yukio Ota saw the similar designs, he had this to say, “… a fundamentally human exit sign, one that speaks to some primal cognitive notion of escape” (Slate 2010).

It also sounds quite familiar to the story about how room escapes started – there’s a Japanese origin (Real Escape Game) and also a Hungarian origin (Parapark), each with limited knowledge of the other when they started.

In America the red EXIT sign is still commonly found but it is slowly being replaced by the green running man sign, which is used in plenty of countries throughout the world or a variance of it is used. The green exit sign has become popular due to the rise of signage which simply illustrates the appropriate action to take. The world has increasingly become more globalised and creates environments where visitors may come from anywhere, speak any language and good signage helps people traverse the barriers they may face while traveling.

Essa 🙂




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