What Delhi Metro’s Barbie-esque women only signage tells us

Must the signage for the women’s coach on the Delhi Metro resemble girlie, sanitary napkin packaging? Yes


The pink and white flower-filled ‘Women Only’ signage plays pretty blatantly into the colour-coded binary of gender stereotyping (‘pink for girls, blue for boys’).
The pink and white flower-filled ‘Women Only’ signage plays pretty blatantly into the colour-coded binary of gender stereotyping (‘pink for girls, blue for boys’).

It’s ironical that while as a society, we are trying to break taboos around menstruation, the signage for the Delhi Metro’s women’s coach continues to be reminiscent of sanitary napkin packaging even six years after these coaches were put on rails. ‘Women Only’ is written in an almost Barbie-esque white lettering on a bright pink area. Snow-flake-like white flowers are sprinkled generously between words and along the length of the indicative arrow.

Typically, any underground station of the Delhi Metro network has overhanging blue boards with white sans-serif lettering and accompanying arrows. You can also spot separate singular square boards with just a large white number indicative of which platform you are standing at. On a station that’s over-ground, the same signages are sometimes black on yellow. Both boards, regardless of whether yellow or blue, have a quarter of their space demarcated in green for the ‘Exit’ sign. The white sans serif lettering is common throughout.

The very purpose of using sans-serif typefaces for public signage is this: clear, unadorned readability in the most confusing, and frazzling of spaces. This Gizmodo article from 2014 even states that 75% of airports around the world use just three sans-serif typefaces— Helvetica, Frutiger, and Clearview— for their way finding signs.

But you needn’t go as far as the airport to appreciate the purpose of well-designed signage. Major intersections like the Rajiv Chowk metro station have round-the-clock peak hour rush and unrelenting crowds, making you appreciate the purpose of clear and legible well-designed public signage. Even though the typical public transport commuter isn’t specifically attentive to, or has the time for the delicacies of design, they get where they have to, despite the crowds, confusion, and chaos that they wade through with every commute. This in itself speaks of the signage’s design success, to an extent.

But disrupting all of these collective public signage norms are the women’s coach signs. While their Hindi typeface—‘Shree 715’—is a consistent presence throughout the station premises, as is the clean Roman ‘Brunel Positive’ typeface, the Barbie-esque ‘Freestyle Script’ is distinctly softer, feminine perhaps, with elongated strokes.

This pink and white flower-filled ‘Women Only’ signage plays pretty blatantly into the colour-coded binary of gender stereotyping (‘pink for girls, blue for boys’) that we’ve been conditioned to respond to, in visual stimuli. All the same on the Delhi metro commute this bright sign also takes a stand against one common social practice: that of shrouding sanitary-pad packets with brown papers and black plastics. There they are ‘veiled’; here they are public and in your face. That’s the good part.

Type Writer is a fortnightly design blog on typefaces, facia, visuals, and packaging.

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