Door Signs - Help or Hindrance? Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Door Signs - Help or Hindrance?

7 Conversations

Doors are, as we all know, an integral part of modern life.

As moveable barriers between 'here' and 'next door' they are hard to fault and have, as a result, remained largely unchanged ever since we first decided that we wanted to be able to close off, or conceal, one area from another in the name of privacy from both roving eyes and marauding sabretooth tigers.

Doors can range from anything as simple as a slip of material or animal hide (as favoured by our Neanderthal predecessors) to the complex array of revolving and automatic doors that decorate the buildings of today1.

The Labelling of Doors

Doors are surely one of the easiest of mankind's multitude of inventions to use. The majority of people should find no difficulty in operating the majority of physical portals.

Obviously practice makes perfect and in order to aid us in our search for perfection, door manufacturers have joined forces with sign makers to assist us in our passage.

Strategically placed signs tell us whether the forthcoming door needs to be pushed or pulled, is an entrance or an exit, and - in these days of advanced technology - whether any interaction with the door is required whatsoever (eg, automatic doors).

Door Signs and their Meanings

Below you will find a list of the most common signs and their intended meanings. Readers should be aware that this is far from an exhaustive list and is only intended for the user of English Language doors:

  • PULL - The extrusion (or handle) provided on the face of the door should be grasped firmly and drawn towards the body. The weight of the door and the strength of the user will dictate the force required to open (or indeed close) said door.

  • PUSH - In the case of 'Push' doors, a handle will not be provided. In many cases a pushing plate will be offered as the suggested point at which to push. Seeing as pushing can be carried out using a number of different body parts including arms, hands, feet, shoulders, knees, back and in extreme cases, your head, the positioning of the pushing plate should be viewed simply as a visual guide. Whichever body part you use, the concept is the same; the weight of the body should be used to force the door away from you.

    Pushers should be aware that over-forceful pushing can lead to overbalancing on the part of the pusher, or cause the door to violently spring back, thus rendering your pushing efforts fruitless and potentially inducing injury.

  • WAY IN or ENTRANCE - Such signage should suggest to the potential user that this particular portal is the proposed method of entering the room/building in question. With the advent of the automatic door, proprietors of rooms have been able to exact more control over we, the door using public. Motion sensors will only permit those trying to enter the building to open said door.

  • WAY OUT or EXIT - As above except this door is designed for the purpose of exiting the building or room in question. Complete fools should stay alert.

Fire Exit, Private, No Entry and their ilk are, as a rule, quite helpful when it comes to the signing of doors. Self-explanatory for the most part, functional in their simplicity - they generally 'do exactly what they say on the tin' and therefore are not covered in the scope of this entry.

Discombobulating Doors and Associated Signage

With the knowledge provided above, you should find yourself at ease in the presence of any door. Sadly, in this world where thinking for yourself is considered a harmful pastime and therefore restricted to those who really should not be allowed to think at all, door and sign makers have colluded in a move that has led to the complete and utter bamboozlement of previously confident users.

How can something as simple as labelling a door be misconstrued? Well, in simple terms, very easily.

A handle on a door marked push, for example, is the most simple yet devious of the lot. When presented with a handle your brain instantly tells you that the door being approached is of the pull variety. Conveniently placed stickers marked 'Push' only help to confuse and you end up fruitlessly battling with said door, much to the amusement of receptionists, security guards and other such folk who habitually hang around the places where doors are located.

Similarly, pull doors without any obvious means of pulling are equally devilish. Subtle handles cunningly incorporated in the design of the door, surreptitiously positioned with the sole raison d'ĂȘtre of perplexing the intended user, should probably be consigned to design museums and asylums for the insane, not public buildings.

There are, naturally, times when signage is not required. Swing doors that are equally at home in a pushing or pulling environment should not be marked but should have a pushing plate so as to confirm to the user that the door can be pushed. In the event of two users approaching said door simultaneously, discretion should be used to decide who will be performing the pushing. Conveniently placed windows should allow users to check whether anyone is loitering in the swinging area of the door as this can put paid to the users' intentions of achieving a swift and painless thoroughfare and, in extreme cases, could lead to expensive hospital fees and/or lengthy legal proceedings.

21st Century Doors and their Associated Foibles

As already mentioned, buildings of today are festooned with no end of doors of varying shapes and sizes. With the advent of the automatic door, the principles of Push, and Pull have been 'simplified'; at least that is the theory. Sadly, technology is anything but infallible and the sensors provided on such doors are often inadequate.

There is little in this world more embarrassing than walking into a closed door in the sight of people you have never met before2. As your ego and various body parts each take a bruising, there is little that can be done to allay the embarrassment beyond retreating to a life of quiet seclusion in Bolivia.

We have become so used to doors opening at our very presence that when they do not we are quite perturbed. Leaping around in front of a door clearly marked 'Push', 'Pull' or indeed 'Out of Order' will do as much for your self-esteem as being dropped from a great height does for a sperm whale.

As for the clear glass sliding door - a concept conceived in one of the more pestilential pits of hell, by one of Lucifer's most twisted minions - this is an altogether more diabolical contraption. The only advice that can possibly be given with regard to sliding glass doors is 'avoid them at all costs', assuming of course you can see them in the first place.


In summary, doors, while functional and undoubtedly useful should be approached with caution. The unassuming and unprepared user is opening him/herself for an almost endless stream of potentially unfortunate consequences. Do not be fooled by their commonplace appearance and 'helpful' signage; doors are not to be trusted and as for sign makers...

1For instructions on how to use the doors most favoured in 21st Century society, the entry on Operating Doors should be of some use.2This is not entirely true. There are more embarrassing things but this is a family site and it is not yet after the watershed.

Bookmark on your Personal Space

Edited Entry


Infinite Improbability Drive

Infinite Improbability Drive

Read a random Edited Entry

Categorised In:


h2g2 Entries

Write an Entry

"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a wholly remarkable book. It has been compiled and recompiled many times and under many different editorships. It contains contributions from countless numbers of travellers and researchers."

Write an entry
Read more