The unexpected life of design decisions

As designers, we create things— from websites to t-shirts to road signs — in hopes of creating a clear user experience. We bring together aesthetics and function, and we don’t always know how or where our designs will end up.

That’s been on my mind a lot lately, in a surprising context. In the last year, I’ve been playing a lot of Geoguessr: a game where you are plunked down somewhere in Google Street view, and drop a pin on a map to guess where you are (there are variations within it, but this is the primary game).

Many of the ways players make guesses are what you’d expect: street names, city monuments, highway signs that include distances to various cities, architecture and plant life. But there’s a whole other category that novice users have to learn about: META, or Most Effective Tactics Available.

As I learned more about incorporating Meta tips, I couldn’t help but realize that they are mostly based on design. I like to imagine the designers who made these choices, which have been so carefully investigated and memorized by players. I like to think they’d be delighted.


Every road sign includes elements such as colour, edges, backing, fonts, and borders. I always know when I’m in France (or a French colony) because all way-finding signs are in a very distinctive font (often italicized). It’s fairly similar to Ireland’s Gaelic translations. Thankfully, they’re easy to tell apart.

For comparison, a BC road sign


Bollards are the little pegs along the sides of roads and highways, to reflect light at nighttime and sometimes mark distances. The differences are minor, but people have made entire youtube videos dedicated to them.

Similarly, it turn out telephone poles are fairly distinctive between countries, and sometimes even regions. I can’t say I know many of them myself, but some particularly unique poles include those found in Romania, Peru, and Japan.

Romanian electricity poles, with added distance markers and town signage.
Peruvian poles
Japanese poles

These are all, at first glance, such minor details. But someone, at some point, made a decision for each one, and I love finding a surprising corner of the internet where they’re celebrated.

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