What Were They Thinking?

Have you ever considered how little most of us know about so many things? I learned something a few weeks ago about my car – and communication.

The picture below shows what popped up on my car’s dashboard halfway through a 50-minute drive. The little yellow-orange icon didn’t blink, but it didn’t go away either … and it scared me because I had no idea what it was. And honestly, with the exclamation mark in the middle, it looks like a serious warning, doesn’t it?


But from what? Why?

Everything in the car felt, looked, and smelled fine, so I kept on driving, asking my wonderful hard-working guardian angel to just let me get to my destination safely, where I could find out more about the icon.

When I got to my friend’s house, I showed her the picture I took, and she immediately knew what it was.

Low. Tire. Pressure.

Uh huh.

Doesn’t that icon just scream “Low Tire Pressure” to you?

Doesn’t to me, either.

Now, I’m sure it’s mentioned in the huge book I received when I bought the car six years ago that describes every system in the car in excruciating detail, but who even knows where their book is? Who’s read it cover to cover? Who’s memorized every page?

Yeah. Neither have I.

For issues that are important enough to alert us to, why wouldn’t the designers make these icons look more like what they represent? Couldn’t the words “tire pressure,” “check tire,” or even just “tire” have been used? Couldn’t the icon have been designed to look like a wheel? Like a tire? Like something that made sense?

Luckily, it wasn’t immediately serious, but I did head over to the place my friend recommended that was right around the corner and got all four tires checked. There was nothing was wrong with any of them, except for one that was indeed a little lower than normal. No nail holes, no obvious trauma; just a little lower than it should have been.

So, lesson learned (for the umpteenth time)? The way we see things is not always the way others do. It’s important to check, especially if we receive an unexpected response to any kind of a message. Even if it’s not an important one, we do need to take the time to think about how someone will react or respond, realizing how different we all are.

George Bernard Shaw’s saying fits here: “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

Have you seen items like this that made no sense to you as an end user?

Susan Rooks
With 25 years’ experience as an international speaker and workshop leader, Susan Rooks is uniquely positioned to help people master the communication skills they need to succeed. In 1995, Susan formed Grammar Goddess Communication to help business professionals enhance their communication skills. She creates and leads three-hour “Brush Up on Your Skills” workshops in three main areas: American grammar, business writing, and interpersonal skills. And recently she created and began leading introductory workshops to help business pros maximize their LinkedIn experience, offering it to Chambers of Commerce free of charge. As a copyeditor (and editor of nonfiction only), Susan has worked on projects ranging from blogs to award-winning children’s books to best-selling business books to corporate annual reports (with clients from half a dozen countries), ensuring that all material is professionally presented and free from grammatical errors. From the beginning, Susan’s only goal was to help everyone look and sound as smart as they are.


  1. Susan – Great piece. I knew the icon, but only by experience.

    In the vein of, “we do need to take the time to think about how someone will react or respond, realizing how different we all are,” I used to use an expression, which was part of a very successful TV advertising commercial in the 70s. The actor would pop him or herself in the head when they suddenly realized they could have been drinking a much healthier beverage and offer:

    “I could have had a V8.”

    V8, of course, being the tomato/vegetable drink, which is still around. I stopped using the expression as a stand-in for any (brilliant) realization when I realized that if I were talking to anyone much younger than myself, they wouldn’t get it. What a shame….

    “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

  2. Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments here, Ali! I very much appreciate them and you.

    Oh, and my mother language and the ONLY language I know is English, so you’re waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay ahead of me, Ali! You have nothing to apologize for; trust me.

  3. This is a well-thought post Susan Rooks, the Grammar Goddess.
    I tried to figure out the warning light that you saw while driving and could not.
    In addition, on how designers could make the warning sign better I add maybe a voice explaining the warning would help.
    The meaning of the post is great. When we give unclear messages we confuse people and may lead them to to think that the warning is serious when it is not very serious. Much better, to make the message very clear to create no doubt and fears.

    A warning is due- you are the grammar goddess and my mother language is not English. Just in case I made a grammar mistake.