Emoji in Tsunami Messaging

Do you know where the tsunami warning signs are on your beach? Have you ever seen one?

Two recent studies explored the effectiveness and design of tsunami warning signs in delivering the intended message.

Tsunami Signs Need an Upgrade?

Scientists from the University of New South Wales in Australia found that standard warning signs fall short in delivering the desired message even though they draw from international hazard symbols or historical works of art.

The authors of the study challenged the accuracy of commonly used graphics and question whether the public fully understands the difference between an actual tsunami and the breaking surf in large waves.

Students Design Their Own Tsunami Sign

Closer to home, a group of students were tasked to design their own sign and message to help people take action in the event of a tsunami.

A key finding in this study was that signs should be developed using all stakeholders where local culture (language, symbols, and understanding) is taken into consideration.

The result of this exercise also suggested that effective signs may contain a combination of minimal language, colorful graphics to draw attention, symbols such as emoji that convey a lot of meaning in a single lexicon and a call to action.

Location of warning signs plays a key role. Signs need to be visible, preferably at eye level and near the entrance to a beach where it can be seen by everyone of any age.


Many of us may be familiar with the mesmerizing effect that the Teletubbies TV show has on young children around the world. The colorful simple shapes suggest that this kind of approach can be used to stop young people in their tracks, whether it’s to see a show or to look at a sign.

When a child stops to see something, most likely the parent would do the same to see what caught the attention of their child. While this is a simplified example, it does prove a point as to the visibility of all our signage.

Signs are effectively an exercise in marketing your information where all the elements of color, text, and symbols must come together to deliver your message.

In the case of tsunami, the outcome of effective communication is a matter of life and death.

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