Tips on effective signage: A look at the good, the bad and the ugly.

05 Jun 2014

Signs are a part of our everyday lives, so much so that many of us probably don’t really realise this. We simply assume that if we need to know something then a sign will be there to give us the information. Road signs tell us which way to go. Male and female signs tell us which toilets to use. Open and closed signs tell us just that. The list is pretty endless really – look around you in any shop or restaurant, on the street or on public transport and you’ll see a litany of information, requests and demands telling us not to smoke, what the daily specials are and what is the latest discount of the week.

Remember Your Audience

Guidelines for effective signage are there to support anyone who is designing a building or responsible for the signage within one. This can be anything from a hotel to an airport or an office to a leisure facility. The first thing to consider is your audience. Who will be looking at the sign?

For example, if the sign is in the reception of a hotel then it will be seen by customers and clients, whereas if it is in the back office it will most likely just be seen by staff. Signs need to convey the message very briefly but still speak respectfully and pleasantly to people. You also need to think about how long people will have to read your sign – the chances are it won’t be very long, so your message needs to be short and to the point, clearly designed and in a bold legible font.

Look to Your Layout

Good signage design is also highly important. The right message can get lost if the wording is too small or the sign is full of clashing colours or diverting patterns. The best signs use bold, contrasting colours for the words and the background. You also need to make sure you are giving clear information if the sign is directional – an arrow pointing off into the middle of nowhere won’t help anyone. Try not to put too much information on one sign, either, or put lots of messages on it – this will only muddle the message and confuse the reader. No one likes to see hundreds of signs all in one place, so try to make sure your signs are placed appropriately.

Clear Information

Here is a good example of how information can be displayed clearly. The airport sign below incorporates clear directions arrows and large easy to read font. The text descriptions are also supported by relevant icons.

Avoiding Misinterpretation

This supermarket sign demonstrates how important it is to consider the chance of misinterpretation. This particular sign makes no attempt to divide the information being displayed. Instead the reader is likely to read this as one complete sentence “baby needs beers and wines!” A simple line in between the two lines of text would deter the reader from reading it as one sentence without comprising the information that needs to be displayed.

Avoiding Signage Clutter

This is a great example of how signage can be overused and can create sign clutter. When planning your signage requirements it’s important to consider the environmental context and assess what signs are currently displayed.

Using High Contrast

Sign contrast is an important consideration. The sign below has a very high contrasting colour scheme of black and yellow. Signs such as these are easier to read for people who are visually impaired.