On-building advertisements are meant for people who have never seen them before, meant for strangers to this particular built environment. The name portion of the sign—”Cheesecake Cafe”—exists for wayfinding and may be used for that purpose by both locals and non-locals, but the description underneath—”Home of the Wedgie”—is an advertisement. Locals already know the Cheesecake Cafe as the home of the Wedgie; that part of the sign isn’t meant for them. So why should it be displayed?

(A quick search reveals that Google has no idea what a cheesecake wedgie might be, but a cheesecake wedgee is apparently “another fresh idea from the Wisconsin Cheesecake Company,” which I think is only further proof that everyone who lives in the state of Wisconsin is stark raving mad. Separately: Wikipedia, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways.)

Could the signage of the future built environment modify itself based on how many times you have been exposed to it? That’s one way to solve the problem of strangers: Once you know how to “use” a space—how to navigate it, where to park your bike, that this café doesn’t take credit cards—signs you don’t use can disappear. Conversely, while you are still learning how to use a space, signs meant for wayfinding are exaggerated: Room numbers, directional signs, bathroom locations. And during emergencies? Signs indicating emergency exits, A.E.D.s, fire extinguishers, become huge, a system hidden and lying in wait until you need it, like aisle path lighting on commercial airplanes.

(This is already the case, to a certain extent: Systems and signs not used by the public or on a day-to-day basis are designed to fade into the visual background, to go unnoticed. But with electronic or holographic signage, we could go even further. Whole rooms, hallways, floors of buildings could be camouflaged, because, after all, you don’t need to use them. In this world, what happens to urban exploration? They will also have to be hackers.)

OR: Signage targeted to your age, income, and other demographics; this sign could re-skin itself based on what it expects will appeal to you. College-educated, six-figures? The sign emphasizes authenticity. Blue collar? Value. Old? Nostalgia. For every user, a different experience. But in a world where everything can be modified, should it be modified? Will there be a way to turn off our customized experience, to see the world how it really is?

Photo snapped by this material world’s dad. Thanks, Dad!

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