The Psychology Of Good Signage

The Psychology Of Good Signage

If you want to harness the power of psychology and make incredible signs that get your business the attention it deserves, then look no further.

The Psychology Of Good Signage

Advertising is much like a seesaw that never finds equilibrium. On one end, you have the customer to whom you are trying to appeal but who often ignores the effort. At the opposite end are business practices telling you how to do certain things. Thus, marketing is a constant battle between sticking to certain trends, appealing to the customer, and attempting creativity. However, within the competitive landscape, there is one thing that has withstood the test of time and continues to work exceptionally well.


Traditional and digital signage continues to be one of the best advertising practices in which you can invest, but not all signs do their job. The best signage employs specific psychological tactics that get the audience interested and engaged.

If you want to harness the power of psychology and make incredible signs that get your business the attention it deserves, then look no further. Here is everything you need to know about the psychology of signage.

Why Do Signs Work?

Signs are attention-grabbing focal points of information that can communicate a lot in a short amount of time. Good signage can be viewed from many positions, such as from the road or while passing by at high speed. Signs designed to bring in customers usually include images and other graphics that attract the eye and help with first impressions.

Signs are guides. They point people in the right direction, and people are always looking for the right sign to take them where they want to go.

Rules of Great Signage

Signs can serve several purposes but usually have a single goal: To expose people to information about something. Ideally, a great sign is going to change someone’s behavior either by informing, persuading, warning, or directing them.

Every sign begins with the desire to communicate a message to the surrounding area. To help you enhance the effectiveness of that message, here are some rules of great signage to follow as you create your design.

Choose an Objective

Again, the main goal of a sign is to either inform, persuade, direct, or warn the viewer. You can have a sign that does one of these things or all four. While it might be obvious for some, you want signage that can do its job swiftly. That means you have to ask yourself a few questions, including:

  • What is the purpose of the sign?
  • How do you want to change people’s behavior?
  • What are you promoting? A product? A service?
  • Are you directing someone to do something?
  • Do you have critical information to convey?

You will notice that the questions aim to help you develop a focused message with a central topic. If you don’t develop an objective, your sign might become confusing.

For example, you wouldn’t have a sign that directs people to go both left and right if you want them to turn around.

Play By The Rules (of Marketing)

So you develop your objective for your sign. Now, you need to think about standard marketing practices. After all, just like other marketing strategies, the content of the sign is everything. However, the content is not just words on a page. You need to think about how to make the information stand out and appeal to the potential customer more than your competitor’s signage will.

Here are some marketing rules to consider:

  • Emotions. In psychology, there are said to be four basic human emotions: happiness, sadness, surprise/fear, and anger/disgust. Marketing employs methods that play into these four emotions. Do you want people to be happy when they read your message or angry? Do you want to provoke action or thought? By playing into emotions, you can develop a more persuasive sign.
  • Creativity. You will never stand out by fitting in. Use your signage to highlight what makes your business—or your mission—different and more favorable than your competitors. Again, use emotions to come up with a unique message.
  • Answer questions and concerns. A fundamental principle in advertising is developing messages or content that will answer a question or concern of potential customers. If you answer a question, people are more willing to pay attention to what you say. Think about your target audience and answer a question for which they have been seeking a solution.

Know Your Target Audience

Of course, you can’t talk to someone and convince them to act a certain way if you know nothing about them. Interestingly, when you think about your target audience or the demographics that you are addressing with your signage, you can summon up a generalized image of who the ideal customer is and what they might be needing or wanting.

Consider the following characteristics when thinking of your target audience:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Occupation
  • Income
  • Ethnicity/Race
  • Location
  • Lifestyle

Once you have data, you can create a buyer’s persona. For example, if you are a coffee shop that is ideal for people on their lunch break, your marketing strategy would include ways to appeal to them, such as quick service time, easy payment options, comfortable seating, free WiFi, and so on.

By understanding the target audience, you will be able to choose words and images that speak to them and address their needs, wants, or concerns more directly.

Don’t Forget Color Psychology

Have you noticed how signs come in several colors? Some colors work better than others, especially when it comes to adding character and underlying meaning. This is because people naturally associate colors with specific characteristics and traits. Some colors are also more visible than others and will affect people differently.

Here are some things to keep in mind when choosing the colors for your sign:

  • Never use a single color or shade. Monotony is the bane of all signage.
  • Choose contrasting colors if you want your sign seen at a distance. White backgrounds with darker lettering often stand out the most, but you can use black backgrounds and yellow, white, or similar shades as well.
  • The color scheme should somehow match your brand image. This continuity helps with brand recognition.
  • Choose colors that match your industry or niche. For example, if you are a sporting goods company, you might select earthy tones, like browns and greens, for your signage. If you are a wellness center, you might choose oranges and blues.

Select Design and Text Wisely

Let’s take a moment to consider the Stroop Effect. The Stroop Effect is meant to show that cognitive interference will result in delayed reaction time whenever there is a mismatch in stimuli, such as the words “blue,” “red,” and “purple,” being in colors that don’t match the word. If you are asked to say the color of the font or read the word instead of the color in which it is printed, you will notice a delay in response time.

What does this mean for signage? Basically, if the design does not match the message, you risk confusion, misunderstanding, and losing appeal. For instance, you wouldn’t want to use an ice cream symbol if you’re selling footballs.

At the same time, you do not want to overlook the power of a great visual. Graphics generate a lot of interest since human brains are hardwired to process images much faster than text. A single image can do wonders for a sign because people will immediately associate that image with the meaning of the message. Again, this is why you don’t want to be misleading with your visuals.

Choose visuals that match the personality of your business or message. Are you trying to direct people? Use arrows that correspond with the directional word. Are you trying to enforce rules? Use the universal circle with a slash through it. You can even use visuals to play into emotions. A smiling face is bound to make people feel happier, while tears and frowns will have the opposite effect.

Next, think about how those images match with the words of the sign. Simple text is better than paragraphs, especially if you want to convey a message efficiently to more people. Action words, verbs, and adjectives are going to get more attention than more subdued vocabulary.

Generally, the best signs will have an image or two with a short headline that is about 3-5 words long. Why? Humans have short attention spans. A 2015 study from Microsoft found that humans have an attention span of about 8 seconds long, which is one second shorter than the attention span of your pet goldfish. Too many words will get your sign ignored.

Avoid using too many capital letters. Upper and lower case letters are easier on the eyes, especially when read at a distance. Avoid using difficult to read fonts as well, and stick to 1-2 fonts that mesh pleasantly. Leave about 30-40 percent white space to help with readability.

Put The Customer First

Remember, you are trying to engage with people. It doesn’t matter what kind of sign you are creating, what it is meant to do, or where you are placing it. If you forget that you are dealing with people, the sign will lose power and not generate the desired effect. Think about the customer and how they will react to the sign. This means recognizing that where you put the sign, how you word the message, the emotion you hope to elicit, and even the frequency of your signage creates an experience that can either be negative or positive.

Most people do not like being overrun with signs, and so they filter out everything that does not appeal to them. By showing the customer you care about their needs and concerns, you will be able to gain their trust through signage much more quickly.


Signs are meant to communicate messages to people. Therefore, you need to understand how people think and engage with signage. All good signs consider things like emotional appeal, placement, simplicity, and visuals to help deliver information to the viewer. A well-received sign can do so much for a business.

If you are looking for signs with beautiful designs to help with your advertising and marketing efforts, then utilize the psychology of good signage. Have questions? Need help creating your business signage? Get in touch with us by filling out the contact form!