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(This question is, for the time being, theoretical.)

After watching a beautiful video compiled from photographs taken from the International Space Station, I noticed the labels of the Soyuz vehicle (СОЮЗ) and Progress module (ПРОГРЕСС) and began to wonder about writing orientation in situations where body position relative to the text baseline can't be guaranteed.

Enormous labels of things you expect to see are probably not a good example, since the reader will be primed to look for them. But what about other things like warnings or manual interface labels?

Take the following example of a button that does something (say, activates a fire-suppression system) and its label(s). Do any of these work? If so, which would be preferred? Is it even a problem to begin with?

Three buttons marked "fire" in various orientations.

Or would it be a better idea to do away with text entirely design a symbol that represents the 'thing' in any orientation (a snowflake is a convenient example).

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In space, a radially-symmetric icon for fire may actually be accurate! – Alex Feinman Jul 24 '12 at 19:33
Interesting question. Would have been nice to ask André Kuipers when he was still up in ISS. Tweeted it to him. Maybe he'll answer. – Marjan Venema Jul 25 '12 at 6:12
up vote 1 down vote accepted

Interesting question but in my opinion it would depend on the use case of the situation and the location where the warning text is being placed. It might be applicable in the international space station too have the text placed at different angles to allow someone in zero gravity to read it from any position but it would be totally not applicable if it was somewhere on earth where there its highly unlikely someone would be reading upside down text.

The upside down or slanted text could also prove deadly if people stop and take the time to figure out the what the text means when faced with an emergency leading to disaster since the sideways or upside text would be just an distraction.

I do like your idea of an symmetrical symbol but you would be hardpressed to find symbols which are symmetrical at all angles and if you do find them,care has to be taken to ensure that they are an accurate representation ( I do a lot of work with Window's Metro UI and often come across metro icons which make no sense but apparently meant something to the designer)

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