Everybody wants to get noticed, but it’s more than just an ego thing. It’s a safety issue, as Shari Franklin Smith vividly demonstrated during an interactive IFAI Expo session on “The Science Behind Conspicuous Designs.”
The technical service manager for the Personal Safety Division at 3M led attendees through a series of “tests” to disclose common misconceptions about visibility.
First she showed a video of runners in the dark wearing white. At first, it looked like three people. It wasn’t until they were as close as 100 feet that you could see there were seven.
Next she revealed with something as simple as asking us to focus our attention directly on a number at the bottom of the video screen and try to read the title on the top of the screen. It wasn’t possible. Smith explained that our fovea vision, through which we see distinctly, makes up only the middle 2 degrees of our vision.
“The goal of high-visibility clothing is to get you to move your eyes from what you’re looking at to something that first appears in your peripheral vision,” she said.
Then she has us find a blue “P” amid various grids of Ps and Qs. It was easy peasy to find the blue P in a field of orange Qs. By varying the number of Ps and Qs and their color, it became increasingly harder to find the blue P, until it was truly “hidden” amid a field of blue and orange Qs and orange Ps.
By the time Smith had everyone wondering whether their brains had stopped functioning properly, she punctuated our eye-mind efficiency with an illustration of “change blindness.” In a “what’s different here?” test, she showed us flashing images of a plane on a tarmac; it took surprising long to notice that in every other image, the engine under the wing was missing. One hopes they would notice such a “detail” when boarding a plane at the airport.
Smith also talked about fluorescent materials. Logical deduction leads us to think it makes things more visible 24 hours a day. But fluorescent colors need light to work, so they are of little use at night.
Placement of reflective properties also makes a difference.
“Garments that have equal luminance but different design have significant differences in conspicuity enhancement performance,” Smith said. She illustrated how reflective stripes are most noticeable when placed on “biomotion points” (areas of the body that move, such as arms and legs).
Smith offered these design points:
- Reflective materials are more effective than bright colors for enhancing visibility in the dark.
- Provide 360 degrees of visibility.
- Incorporate a sufficient amount of high brightness reflective material (at least 70 square inches and 15.5 inches per facing view of the garment in a minimum of 3/4 inch strips).