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I agree, some signs need to be learned, and traffic signs are a prime example of that. On the other hand, many signs with fewer fine distinctions can be made with pictograms that require no prior knowledge of conventions.

That being said, traffic signage is a mixture of both, where some meaning is given by convention (e.g., white background and red border means "not allowed"), and then extrapolated by pictograms (bicycles not allowed, trucks not allowed, pedestrians not allowed).

Edit: A certain cultural context is of course always required, to know for example that a crossed out cigarette applies to smoking in general and doesn't mean that you can smoke pipes, cigars, or bongs. Such 'misunderstandings' only happen with QA engineers though. ;)

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