Skip to Navigation
University of Pittsburgh
Print This Page Print this pages

September 1, 2016

Heads up: Campaign targets distracted cell phone users

FlrDcl_SSoE_Hallways_072816_FnlP copy copy


Conventional wisdom says that most signs should be at eye level.

But visitors to the Swanson School of Engineering are returning this fall to find an understated safety message at their feet.

“Mind the Hallway. Look up from your Phone” decals have appeared on the floor in a half-dozen high-traffic locations in Benedum Hall.

Conceived by Swanson school marketing and communications director Paul Kovach in conjunction with Swanson school graphic designer Leslie Karon-Oswalt, the messages incorporate the engineering school logo and the London Underground’s iconic “Mind the gap” imagery.

The signs are under foot on the building’s ground level and first floor. “That’s where you have the most traffic and the most undergraduates,” whereas Benedum’s upper floors mostly house offices and labs, Kovach said.

The low humor has a purpose. According to the National Safety Council, distracted walking injuries related to cell phones are on the rise, accounting for an estimated 11,100 injuries between 2000 and 2011, with victims tripping, falling or walking into objects such as signs, doors or walls. In 74 percent of the incidents, talking or texting while walking was to blame.

Nearly a quarter of the injuries involved individuals under age 20 and 22 percent of the incidents occurred at school.

Kovach said the notices were prompted by anecdotal reports rather than actual accidents. “Every once in a while staff would comment that students would run into them in the halls — not paying attention, particularly when getting off the elevators. They’re looking at their phones and hurrying on their way to class,” he said.

With the dean’s blessing, his office devised the messages but quickly nixed the idea of posting the notices at eye level on the building’s wall-mounted digital screens in favor of more appropriately low places.

It’s too soon to tell whether Kovach’s self-described “social experiment” is having an impact, given that the signage was placed just a few weeks ago.

“We get a lot of families touring throughout the year. Parents in particular might get a kick out of it,” he said. “It’s partly in fun, but also to remind people there are others in the building besides yourself and you need to pay attention.”

—Kimberly K. Barlow 

Leave a Reply