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Push and Pull Man - Symbol Pictogram Design Story

Ever Pushed a Pull Door or Pulled a Push Door?

I don't know if you've ever walked towards a shop, and found yourself struggling with the doors, trying to figure out whether it was a PUSH or a PULL?

Whenever I ask people "Do you ever mix up push and pull?" They often reply: "All the time!"

Push Sign
People have even set up fun facebook pages about the subject.

One day I walked into Starbucks at Triton Square, Euston, London and it took me four attempts to get into the coffee shop.

One of the double glass doors was locked and the other door was a pull instead of a push.

starbucks chelsea new york

I thought "Why is there not global symbols for pushing and pulling doors?".

London is an international city and yet the words PUSH and PULL can confuse even those who know the language!

starbucks new york
An example in New York where the signs say PUSH and PULL.

People either don't notice the signs or aren't able to follow "word only" style signs.

The Safety Aspects of Having Good Push and Pull Signage

The worst case of mixing up push and pull was when it was assumed that a door opened outwards.

People were escaping from a fire and in the confusion did not realise that the door opened the other way.

Other situations are when people end up with hand and head injuries assuming that the door opens a particular direction.

Safety Signs I spoke to a researcher who ran a project on push and pull signage.

He said he witnessed door accidents including one man breaking his nose after assuming the door was a "PUSH".

First Steps towards Creating the Symbols - The hand

During the creation and development of the symbols no other picture signs were in evidence either out on the street or on the internet. After the putting together the ideas and paper collages, John Szwenk created digital images of the signs.

The first idea was that of a hand pushing.

handnotagoodsignforpush After market testing it became clear that a hand in the construction industry means:



Three dimensional doors and frames with arrows

After the idea of just a hand for pulling, the next idea was to create a 3D door and frame arrangement.

The initial view about the 3D arrows and doors designs was that they were good and should be registered.

Unfortunately not many other people had the same view.

Market testing showed people could not understand the 3D designs! (FAIL!)

One man was so confused he even took the 3D picture and put it on its side to figure it out.

The conclusion was that two dimensional pictograms seem to be much better for signage.

Side on ideas for pushing and pulling

Talking to Jean Taylor one day, she put forward the idea of a figure leaning forward for pushing and leaning back for pulling.

push pull hand drawn ac The idea was to convey the energy of pushing and pulling.

I made some rough drawings of a 2D figure pushing and pulling.

From there the physiology needed to look similar to that of

"pushing a vehicle"


"pulling as if in a tug of war".

Adding a Push Character to the Arrow and Doors

black push figure

The next stage was to see if a push figure could be added

to the

"arrows and doors" picture.

Combining the Arrows and Doors with the Yellow Man

yellow men arrows and doors

Coming up with further ideas of pushing and pulling we tried to integrate the figures with the arrows and doors design but realised there were too many elements, making it cluttered and difficult to understand.

Taking photos to Generate Ideas

Went over to see Charles Kumi where he took a number of photos of me pushing and pulling doors.


Almost unconciously, I drew curves with a biro over the door frame of the printed photos.

During an appointment to see a patent agent, Harry Lamb, of Marks and Clerk in London, I showed him the push and pull photos.

He said "Mmm Bowed Doors!".

That was the first time the term "bowed doors" was used in relation to what we were trying to achieve.

His reaction indicated that this idea could work.

Push Sign Pictogram with a Bowed Door

push sign door pictogram

Taking the Push Sign Pictogram out of the arrows and doors picture above

and then adding a "bowed door" made the picture simpler

and easier to understand.
Having "Less to look at" had a beneficial effect on understanding the picture.

Various Digital Designs with Push and Pull Character

push pull multiple ideas

John created a number of digital designs based on my collages.

Although the idea was developing, the feedback from one critic was that one of the characters looked as if he was trying to climb a wall!

Bowed and striped Yellow and Black Doors


Trying an alternative design ended up with the design of black, yellow, black striped and bowed doors.

ski glove final

By joining John Szwenk's digital characters with the digital versions of the yellow and black striped and bowed doors, the characters were beginning to take shape.

Down to the Last Three Pictograms

We were down to three Pictograms.

push and pull last 3

For for the pull pictograms there was an image with a small "door knob" type handle and another with a "rectangular bar" type handle.

It was decided to choose only the image with the "bar type handle" as it made the pulling pictogram even clearer.

The Images Have a "Bit of a Belly"

John noted that the images had a bit of a belly, with the question of making the tummy smaller.

push sign belly

Chatting about it we agreed that the larger tummy made the images look more friendly.

Trimming Down the Doors and Moving the Foot Up

We were into the final "detailing" of the push and pull characters.

push sign comparisons

The arc of the doors was too long.

They were cut down at each end.

Also the pull image had the feet in line with each other.

Jean mentioned moving the foot up on about three different occasions before the penny dropped.

By raising the front foot the image looked better and more like someone planting feet firmly on the ground.

The final versions of the two pictograms were completed in February 2011.

Registering the designs with OHIM

Registering with OHIM was a good way of making the registration verifable and visible within Europe.

Registered Designs OHIM 001823618-001/002 push and pull signs

This was handled by patent agent Bob Gadsden of Gadsden IP, Thatcham.

The designs were given the priority date of 21st Febrary 2011.

The Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market (OHIM) issued numbers

001823618-001/002 for the Design Registration Certificates.

USA Design Patent

A Patent attorney in New York, Meredith and Keyhani, set up the application for the Design Patent.

USA Design Patents D654956 and D654957 push and pull signs

As the time was within the 6 months from the original OHIM registrations, the original priority date of 21st February could be used.

A USA Design Patent appears to be more rigorous than an OHIM registration in that any related prior art is searched for and noted.

The Patent Certificate came through in early 2012.

USA Design Patent numbers D654956 and D654957 were allocated to the push and pull signs.

Trademark for "PUSH & PULL MAN"

One of the questions after the finalising of the designs was

"What were the characters going to be called?"

push and pull man trademark

It made sense as the Fire Exit signs were referred to as running man that these symbols should be called the equivalent

"Push and Pull Man".

The UK Intellectual Property Office allocated number 2596549 to the "PUSH & PULL MAN" Trademark.


Although it is not necessary to register for copyright, it is helpful to put a copyright symbol to assert this right.

push pull signs copyright The copyright symbol is quite respected. One printer refused to do any printing unless copyright ownership was proven.

The only way ownership could be proved was by showing the OHIM European Design Registration certificates.

"push pull signs.com" website

A domain name of pushpullsigns.com had been registered some time before.

Push and Pull Men The intention was to create a simple website that was clean looking and easy to navigate.

The initial blue background design with the buttons set out at the bottom was put together. John created some .jpegs.

David Curran who had been developing commercial websites for customers for some years created a working site using the latest standards.

As the framework was then in place, most of the additional modifications were straighforward using just a text editor.

For the website name the idea was to have the spaces in the website name when shown on printed signs or elsewhere because the spacing made it easier to read.

Putting the "push pull signs.com" with spaces into Google in either the top bar or the search bar brings up the website first in the listing.

Making the website visible for Google

There are a number of search terms which have similar meanings:

Google push pull signs






The site was set to combine PUSH and PULL with the above words

to allow people to find the site using different combinations of these search terms.

Making the website visible for "Google Images" searching

The way in which images are indexed in Google seem to have less predictability

than just the straight Google website text searches.

Google Images push pull signs

It seems that the images take longer to rise higher up the listings than the website pages when it comes to html code and image name changes.

"push and pull man.com" website

This web domain was registered to match with the Trademark name.

push and pull man image

Slough Observer Newspaper Article

Having talked to a reporter about the push and pull symbols, he sent along a photographer to take photos of John and me holding up the signs.

Slough Observer PUSH and PULL

It is a funny subject in that people seem to really get into the idea of using pictures for pushing and pulling doors.

The Slough Observer photographer told me about how his aunt had broken her hand after struggling with a door pushing/pulling the wrong way.

Wikipedia Page

An initial Wikipedia page was created in July 2011 and this was renamed by a

Wikipedia administrator to its current name.

wikipedia push pull signs
"Pictorial Push Pull Signs for Doors"

The Wikipedia text needed to be as brief as possible allowing the pictures to do the work.

As there was already a write-up from the Slough Observer reporters, there was a newspaper editorial source.

An editorial from Sign Update magazine was another good external reference.

There was a university research study on pushing and pulling doors based in Canada in 1994 and this was sited as an acedemic reference.

Feedback about the First Printed Signs

The original idea was to just have the symbols printed on their own.

With the symbols on their own a teacher tested the signs on a group of school children and verified that they were understandable as push and pull without prior training.

A conversation with a research Psychologist in Canada, who wrote the paper on push and pull signs back in 1994, revealed some interesting information.

Push Sign Push Sign
He ran a project using doors which were able to


He then added different types of push and pull signs to the doors

and noted how people reacted to the signs.

His results and conclusions were that the combination of "PICTURES + WORDS" make the most effective signs

A decision was taken to add the words push and pull.

Changing around the design it looked better and more understandable
with the words "offset" to the left and the right.

For the Push Sign, taking an imaginery line down through the head and the trunk, the line would go through the head, trunk and through the eye of the "P" down on the left side.

Push Sign

For the Pull Sign the imaginery line would

go through the head and trunk with the "P" printed down to the right side.

Primary Schools

The sales first order was from Mundella Primary School in Sheffield.

Push and Pull Key Stage One primary schools This enquiry had come via the pushpullsigns.com website.

To market to potential new customers, a mailshot was posted out and a number of schools around the country ordered signs for their glass doors.

Schools have to teach "push and pull" for key stage one and having these signs also makes the doors safer.

Amazon Sales

Amazon was decided as an avenue to market and sell the signs.

Amazon push and pull signs doors

It had a number of advantages in that customers are familiar and confident about buying through Amazon.

Interesting Websites and the "We Must be Closed" Sign

At every step of the way this has been a strange journey, none more than seeing people respond to the yellow push and pull symbols and incorporate them into their own blogs and non-commercial websites.

This was a Geography project from the USA

Can you spot the PUSH and PULL signs?

You could say these sites are ignoring the various intellectual property rights in place.

However they are not taking printed sign or licencing business and not attempting to sell the signs commercially.

The contributors to these site are effectively agreeing that there is support for "human like" push and pull pictograms.


This is from a blog about a conversation with a customer about how to push a door.

Mixing up push and pull seems to be a subject much commented on the internet.

PUSH If That Doesn't Work PULL If that Doesn't Work We Must Be Closed.
Someone combined the wording of a sign from years before and used the pictograms coming up with a popular version of the sign.

The photos of the sign have appeared on over 100 fun image websites to date.

PUSH If That Doesn't Work PULL If that Doesn't Work We Must Be Closed. Aug 2012

Push Pull - We Must Be Closed

We've recently created a T-Shirt based on the wording and made it available on Amazon.

International Languages

Small web pages in different languages have been developed

to allow people who don't speak English to access the site.

The majority of the searches seem to be from Spanish speaking countries with visitors from French speaking countries also making frequent visits. empujar tirar puertas spanish push and pull signs tirar empujar senales puertas spanish push and pull signs chinese push pull signs chinese push pull signs poussez panneau autocollant porte french push and pull signs tirez panneau autocollant porte french push and pull signs

russian push and pull signs russian push and pull signs drucken schilder ziehen german push and pull signs ziehen schilder drucken german push and pull signs

There are also visits from German, Italian and Russian language speaking countries.

Push and Pull Man Pushing Pulling Pictures for Kids Children Schools Teaching

Sign Update Magazine: Push and pull symbols are changed to red and green

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