As a professional designer, it can be valuable to contemplate how practitioners solved the same problem over time with different fashions and different tools.
Seatback Safety cards have been used since the dawn of commercial flight. While their pamphlet form has remained largely the same for a century, they have significantly evolved in ways that reflected broader social and technological trends.
For example, the introduction of pictographs emerged to accommodate International flight in the 1970s and the application of branding elements came to fore in the 1960s, when corporations started to recognize the importance of consumer marketing.
Examining continuities and discontinuities of this commercial art can expose the limitations of past thinking, as well as its virtues. By collecting & curating seatback safety cards, I get to watch a creative process play out over generations.
Thinking in this time scale tempers my work, reminding me that the current zeitgeist is just a phase in a multigenerational conversation.
Airline seatback procedure cards have been around since at least the 1930s. The oldest one we've ever encounter comes from Imperial Airways, and was spesificly intended to sooth passengers on the short flight across the English Channel. Safety cards of that era contained general information about the sensation of flight, rather than specific information about what actions to take in an emergency.
In the modern post-war era of accessible international flight, starting in the 1960's, seatback safety cards started to take on the form we recognize today, using pictographic illustration to show correct behavior in the event of an emergency, as well as basic information on how to operate a seatbelt and when it is permissible to use electronic devices.
Setback airline safety procedure cards are pictographic, which means that they communicate with readers through illustration, rather than text. Popular examples of pictographic instructions include lego set instructions, which are meant to be understood by children who cannot yet read, or Ikea furniture instructions, which can serve as a visual aid for people with poor spacial skills.
Safety cards are pictographic because they need to be understood by passengers who speak dozens of languages. Particularly in planes that serve long haul international routes between nations with several vernaculars, it is important that all passengers understand how to safely escape.
Seatback airline Safety procedure cards are informational brosures provided to passengers on commercial flights. The first safety cards were intended to ease the anxiety of first-time flyers and give them an idea of what to expect in the first flight. For example, easy cards spelled out what the sensation of turbulence, banking a turn, and landing felt like.
In the modern era of international commercial aviation, setback safety cards have evolved in two ways. The first is that the cards have become pictographic, meaning that they express pressure without written text. This is because a single plane might serve dozens of nations, each with a different vernacular. Pictographic cards help airlines avert the expense and logistics of changing out procedure cards each time it serves customers who speak a different language.
The section development is that seatback safety cards now demonstrate the use of more advanced safety features, like more compact life jackets and inflatable slides that serve a dual use as rafts for use when airplanes make emergency water landings. Seatback safety cards serve to condition passengers not to panic in an emergency, when an orderly exit may be important to passenger survival.