For my thoughts on the re-opening of Walt Disney World, see this.

By the co-author of The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit 2020, the best-reviewed Disney World guidebook series ever.

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A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: The Purple Signs of Walt Disney World

By Dave Shute

Welcome back to Fridays with Jim Korkis! Jim, the dean of Disney historians, writes about Walt Disney World history every Friday on


By Jim Korkis

In many ways, Walt Disney World has always been a seamless experience to the point that for years cast members joked that guests left their brains in their cars when they visited.

Walt Disney World works very hard at making things as seamless as possible and a lot of thought, effort and planning goes into making certain decisions.

Why are Walt Disney World traffic signs purple and not the typical green and white that are seen on the roadways leading into the popular vacation destination?

The signs scattered around Walt Disney World are the work of Sussman/Prejza & Co, a Los Angeles design firm that was hired in 1989 to tackle the design for the wayfinding and traffic signs of Walt Disney World and EuroDisney (now Disneyland Paris).

Walt Disney World encompasses an area larger than the city of San Francisco and all visitors arrive at the property by road—at least until perhaps an expansion of the Sun Rail or extension of Brightline happens sometime in the future.

Sussman/Prejza’s task was to develop a signing system for people in vehicles that would be unique in spirit, clean, easy to follow, and capable of being expanded as the area continued to grow.

The theme park was divided into several major districts. A hierarchy of signs was established to first lead visitors toward a specific district, and once there, toward a distinct destination. The 1,000 sign system includes large freeway signs, major and minor road directionals, regulatory signs, gateways, and bus graphics.

The firm was best known for its work on the design and signage for the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, which featured similarly bold color palettes as the ones chosen for Walt Disney World. This was how the firm attracted the attention of the Walt Disney Company in the first place, with so many Disney executives and Imagineers living in Los Angeles.

As for the colors on Walt Disney World traffic signs, according to designer Deborah Sussman, the firm drew inspiration from the big cheese himself, Mickey Mouse. The black, red, and yellow colors used on the signs were chosen to mimic the color palette of Mickey Mouse.

The signs were further fleshed out with complimentary colors–which are colors that lie on the opposite side of the color wheel. Red’s complementary color is green, and yellow’s complementary color? Purple.

Using those complementary colors makes the signs easier to read and, of course, a sign that was prominently black would be difficult to read at night. A traffic sign that was primarily yellow would be difficult to see clearly during the day and one that was largely red would detract from warning signs that were red.

Different colored flags were put out around the property to survey guests to see which color they best remembered. Apparently the purple and red flags had a higher instance of being clearly recalled, and that helped confirm the final color choices.

In addition, purple helps define when a guest is actually on Walt Disney World property because it is such a different color than the typical road signs. As usual, no detail is too small to be considered when it comes to defining Disney.

Why is Disney able to control the color of road signs?

Disney has their own governing jurisdiction, called the Reedy Creek Improvement District. The district is responsible for overseeing the public services of the property, including the fire department, EMS, water treatment, electric, roadways and bridges.

With that authority, it was no problem to decide to make the road signs purple. Guests give little thought today about the different color other than perhaps thinking, “I am on WDW property”. Like so many other things, it is just another thing that is accepted and not questioned.

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Thanks, Jim!  And come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis!

In the meantime, check out his books, including his new Halloween-appropriate Vault of Walt Volume 9: Halloween Edition, and his other new book, Hidden Treasures of the Disney Cruise Line.


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