Warning: Clouds Cause Short Pants

The goal in crafting a pictorial product warning is to come up with a picture that can be universally understood, even by people who speak different languages or are illiterate. But it’s darned difficult to capture most warnings in the form of a simple drawing.

Case in point: this warning on a 3M paint-fumes mask.  You’ve seen or used these before. They are paper masks held to one’s face with rubber bands that go behind the head.

But what is this pictorial warning trying to say?  The accompanying text helps, but, again, the whole idea of pictorial warnings is that they are supposed to be understandable even by people who can’t read the written warning.

So just concentrate on the picture itself and ask, “What is it saying?

Here are possibilities that come to mind:

— “Smoking Area”

— “Help, My Lungs Recently Exploded”

— “Totally Awesome Bong”

— “Short Pants Are Caused By Clouds”

And what’s up with the limitation in the written warning that the respirator helps keep “non-harmful dusts and certain particles out of your nose, mouth and lungs”?  Isn’t the whole point of buying them to keep out harmful dust and particles?

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Andrew Jay McClurg is a law professor whose teaching and research interests include tort law, products liability, legal education, privacy law and firearms policy. He holds the Herbert Herff Chair of Excellence in Law at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law.
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