In Praise of Signs

In Praise of Signs

If you’re of a certain age, you may remember the 1970 hit “Signs”. The chorus, in classic 70s style, is both angry and sarcastic in its protest against the overuse of signs (which hamper freedom and discriminate against “long haired freaky people”).

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign,
Blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind!
Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?

So that was 43 years ago, and I’m here today to tell you that I think signs are awesome, helpful, and when used properly, save a lot of aggravation. Namely, mine.

It’s Not About Marketing, It’s About Service

I enjoy travel, and while I manage to leave the business back home in Nicole’s capable hands, I still can’t shake my tendancy to analyze (over analyze?) business processes everywhere I go. One of the things I am constantly struck by is the poor use of signage and its impact on the customer experience.

*On a recent cruise, I arrived at the port area in Venice with a group of similarly travel-weary people. Greeting us was an enormous terminal with maybe two signs, neither of which were helpful in pointing a person to the right area. In fact, the signs were not in use at all, which was a shame since they were just standing there taking up space. Dozens of people dragged heavy luggage to the wrong area, only to be redirected by a harried staff member. PUT UP A SIGN YOU IDIOT, I wanted to yell, but didn’t.

*Many of the cafés in Italy require you to pay for your purchase before ordering at a different counter. I’ve only seen one café that actually had a sign to let customers know this. You can imagine the chaos that ensues every single lunch hour in absence of a sign. At least for the tourists.

*Airports are notorious for being confusing, especially if what little signage there is is not in your native language. How nice would it be to walk in the door and have the logo of your airline and an arrow pointing in the direction of the check-in area, rather than wandering back and forth looking for the Air Transat logo that is all the way at the end of the terminal? (Not that I did that.)

Five Ways Signs Can Improve Processes for Your Customers

While I focused on the travel industry in this blog, the same rules apply for any business with face-to-face customer interactions. Signs are good! They don’t need to be fancy, they just need to be helpful. In a pinch, even a post-it note will do. Remember, a good sign should:

*Be short and yet abundantly clear.
*Be visible and easy to spot.
*Be helpful.

Here are five reasons for using signage in your place of business:

  1. To provide direction. Point the way for your customer. Have signage at all corners, intersections, and stairs so they never have to wonder which way to go.
  2. To set expectations. Let your customers know what they need to have in hand when they meet with you (specific paperwork or documents?) and how long the process will take.
  3. To give instructions. Tell the customers where they need to go, and in what order they need to do things.
  4. To share information. Provide interesting information to increase the customers’ understanding of your business processes. Tell them why things happen the way they do.
  5. To say thank you. No harm in posting a thank you note for your customers at the end of a process. Thank them for their patience, their business, their sense of humour, and their time!

PS – don’t forget that your employees are your (internal) customers too, so signage works in the office in the same way!

Have examples of signs that work? Share it with us! Give us a shout via Twitter @whiteboardcons using #betterfastercheaper or email us at

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Until next week!