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iClassPro Blog

The Importance of Signage

March 19, 2014

Signage is a frequently undervalued aspect of doing business. In the service industry, signs direct customers to the places they need to go, inform them of special deals or rates, and they can even help a business set the atmosphere with a theme or unique terminology. One of the primary ways we communicate non-verbally through business is signage. Some common signs can even surpass language barriers, like the caution signs janitors use, exit signs, and building maps. The bottom line is, signage matters. But before you go sign-crazy, here are some key elements of creating signage as well as some brief descriptions of common signage in the workplace.

Five Key Elements of Signage

There are five basic elements to be considered when creating signage. They are shape, color, images, text, and placement. Colors can effect a person’s mood; image complexity can make signs difficult to interpret; text that is small, too close together, or too long can be hard to read; and placement can directly impact the usefulness of the sign and it's size, content or materials.

1. Shape- The shape of a sign can sometimes give the sign a lot of meaning. For example, a stop sign is an octagon. No other common street sign uses that shape. Triangle signs are often used for hazards. Shapes can make a difference in both the meaning and design work of the sign.

2. Color- The impact of color on emotions has been studied for years. Some colors, like blue for instance can provide a calming effect. That may be something to take into consideration when you are designing a sign for the customer service desk! Other colors, such as red, stand out and can provoke agitation or alarm and may be more useful for marking emergency exits, emergency shelter areas, etc.

3. Images/Complexity- If an image has a lot of detail or complexity, it can be difficult to make out what it is from a distance and sometimes the message can get lost. For example, if you have a sign to mark that the recycle bins are this way, you probably just want to use the recycling arrows and another arrow to point the way. Avoid a whole lot of noise in the image—like a happy squirrel climbing a tree by a pond with the sun shining and a recycling bin on the ground. The goal is to get the customer to interpret the sign as “recycling” not “random squirrel.” Language boundaries can also be overcome by keeping it simple and using universally known signs and symbols.

4. Text- Most signage will have some sort of text and may even be completely text based. However, unless we’re talking about a waiting room where customers have the time to stop and read—you want to avoid lengthy text. You wouldn’t want a driver focused on reading a paragraph on a billboard any more than you want a customer standing in the middle of a hallway reading a large directory. It can lead to frustration, accidents, and congestion. Try to break up signage and only include necessary information. A directory only needs to tell you that the billing department is on the first floor, room “x”. Strategically placed room number or department signs in the rest of the building can help route the customer further. A map with a lot of color coded arrows or rooms can be confusing, and the customer may forget the route by the time they get where they are going.

5. Placement- Last, but definitely not least, placement is a key factor to considering what signage to place at your business. Placement can determine the size of the signage you need, whether it makes more sense to use words or symbols, and how useful the sign really is. For example, if you have a smaller parking lot on the street side of your building and another lot with unused space in the back, you can place a reasonably sized sign as customers pull into the drive that directs them to more parking in the back. This can save a lot of headaches, accidents, and parking lot congestion.


Types of Signage to Consider

Mounted or Street View Signs- Signs that face the street to mark your location, advertise your business and/or catch the attention of drivers often have a lot of regulations imposed by local government, such as how close the sign can be to the road, the wattage of any lighting on the sign, and can even regulate the height, colors and dimensions of the sign itself. After taking these restrictions into account, it’s important to make sure that your business’ logo and colors are present in some form if possible. You may also consider including your phone number, hours, or website on the sign for reference, but keep it simple. When it comes to billboards and traditional highway signs, messages under 8 words will have the most impact due to the high travel speeds and limited time to interpret the message. Areas that are highly developed may have a lot of signage, so make sure you take a look around and use your surroundings to determine the best type of signage to stand out.

Building Signs- Particularly if you are in a business center or plaza, the proper signage on your building can help customers identify where you are located and where they should park. It should be big enough to catch the attention of customers and match your branding. If the building you are located in has any restrictions on major signage, window signs or decals can also help identify your position. If you own your own building, you may also want to use additional signs to indicate which entrances lead to offices, classrooms, performance areas, etc.

Interior Signs- This most commonly refers to room numbers, name placards, department signs or simply general signs on the interior of a building that help customers get where they are going. Strategic placement and consistency is key with interior signs to provide direction and develop a quick learning curve for new customers navigating your building the first time. Randomly changing shapes, colors or placement can make it confusing to get where you need to go. While smaller businesses may need to invest less in these types of signage, it is important to clearly mark areas such as restrooms, employee only areas, and emergency exits or shelters.

Rigid Signs, Banners, and More- These types of signage are often used for teams, special events, promotions, and other less permanent sign installments. The advantages to these signs are that they are often portable and easily replaced—reducing the worry about knowing the proper placement before ordering the sign. However, since they are designed to be only temporary, the odds of having to replace one or two of them before they have become outdated is higher. It’s also less likely that these will be used outside for a long period of time without showing signs of wear.


Signage plays a key role in our everyday life and at every business. It can help a business maintain its branding, help customers find their way around, provide useful tips and information and more! The next time you go into a new building, pay attention to the signs you see posted and how you use them to go about your business. You may be surprised at how often you rely on signs in daily life. When a building is well planned and signs are posted properly, you tend to have a better overall experience- particularly as a first time customer. But when a location or building is not clearly marked, you will be sure to notice and even remember that feeling of being lost or confused the next time you visit...which means that other customers will too.