Choosing Colours in Wayfinding Signage

14 Jan 2015

When signage is designed for wayfinding purposes, there are lots of considerations to take into account to ensure that it can be accurately understood and is clear to read. Colour is one such consideration when creating signage, but just why is it so important?

The Power of Colour

Colour has a number of effects when used in signage. It can work on a sub-conscious level, sending us a message or impression that we get from colour association, but the choice of colours used can also affect how legible a sign is to read, understand or interpret. The wrong use of a colour can cause confusion and distraction, so ensuring this doesn’t happen is crucial for any signage intended for wayfinding scenarios. Colours that work well together improve the user experience and readability of a sign, no matter what language it is in. Colours also allow signage to be fit for its environment, especially in specific or traditional areas.

The Importance of Contrast

The colour contrast between the background and the letters used in signage strongly influences the ability to read and understand it. The design colour and contrast should blend in well with its environment, and careful consideration should always be given to ensure colours are optimal for reading at a distance and at different angles. Coloured text on bright backgrounds, for example, will cause a high contrast and make the words disappear. Some experts even believe that taking light reflectancy readings using a scientific approach can assess suitable colour contrasts.

The Colour Wheel

Primary, secondary and complementary colours can be organised into what is known as a colour wheel. The colour wheel shows the relationship between different colour combinations. Experts believe that understanding the different relationships between colours is often the first step to developing a colour scheme that can be used effectively for signage and wayfinding purposes.

Colour Associations

Colour psychologists argue that we are strongly influenced by different colours and that the colours used in signage can evoke specific feelings or emotions.

Red, for instance, is commonly used to symbolise danger or warning and is a very strong and powerful colour when used on signage. A red background with black, yellow or white lettering often works best, and its associations can even cut across language barriers.

Blue is commonly used in wayfinding, especially in travel and transport or for information signs. Careful use of blue is important, however, to ensure enough contrast is created to increase maximum visibility. For a light blue background, black lettering works effectively, whilst white lettering complements a dark blue background.

Yellow is also a popular choice of colour for wayfinding signage, especially for busy areas such as airports, public spaces and roads. A yellow background with black lettering stands out clearly and for this reason is one of the most common colour combinations used in wayfinding.

Black is a powerful colour and often associated with formality and importance, so it often features on signage. A black background can allow lettering to stand out better than many other colours, but it’s important to ensure the letters are big enough to create the right level of contrast, which could affect the readability of the sign. Both white and yellow on a black background provide excellent visibility results.