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What makes a sign GREAT!


Our research shows that 44% of the people on the floor have become aware of a new business because of signage. One of the keys to effective signing is that Attendees walking down a given aisle only have a 20 degree cone of visibility. This means that signage that is parallel to the aisle is 50% less likely to be visible to Attendees as they pass-by the booth. Good signage is placed at an angle to the aisle so that it has a higher propensity of being seen by Attendees as they walk the floor.

Based on the average 3 mph speed which Attendees move at, signage using 3 to 6 inch block letters and three to five words in length, have proven to be the best in visual impressions of 10 to 20 seconds. Signage with accent color schemes to call out special information has proven to be 78% more effective in promoting reader retention than signage that does not utilize accent color schemes. The best color schemes to use are black letters on a yellow background, black letters on a white background, yellow letters on a black background or white letters on a blue background.

To watch a short video about signage click the play button.

The book: Design and Typographic Principles for the Visual Novice spells out four basics of effective graphic design:

  • CONTRAST: If the elements (type, color, size, line thicknesses, shape, space, etc.) are not the same, then make them verdifferent.
  • REPETITION: Repeating visual elements helps develop the organization and strengthen the sense of unity.
  • ALIGNMENT: Nothing should be placed on the sign arbitrarily. Every element should have some visual connection with another element on the sign.
  • PROXIMITY: Items relating to each other should be grouped close together.

There are four fundamental purposes of signage:

  1. Directional or Way Finding.
  2. Information/Education Delivery.
  3. Promotional Action.
  4. Recognition/Reward.

First: Directional or Way Finding

This is the most familiar type of signage as it is commonly used for way finding or to provide logistical information. As a person drives down the road looking for the airport a sign with a picture of an airplane and an arrow is a welcomed sight. When it comes to directional signage, the old adage “less is more” is true. Here, symbols can be used as a mechanism for thought, and this important reality applies for all signage purposes.

Through symbols, such as images, icons, or wordmarks, people are also able to create meaning and form valuable experiences.

In addition, the ability to use symbols allows people to store information in memory that can be used to drive behavior.

(Directional signage should be simple.)

Research indicates that much of thinking is linguistically based, and that there is a correlation between cognitive development and language acquisition. The most effective directional signs for all cultures, classes, races, religions and all humanity across all boundaries use symbols such as an icon or picture, (e.g. an arrow). Typically the more Exhibitors use standardized symbols instead of words the better off they are, it is that simple.


   Airport               No Left             Turn Toilet

Second: Information/Education Delivery

(This depth of information is necessary for credibility in specific venues.)

This is the biggest signage category as it encompasses most of the internal value streams, and it is an extremely effective mechanism in the awareness building phase. Any and all data, specifications, uses of a product, how to use information, where to get it, what the prices are and related education elements are part of awareness building. These value streams are, again, most efficient when done with as little text as possible. At a minimum, 30% of the sign space should be blank in order to provide enough open “white space.” If the signage is all the same and/or has too much text without white space it can become difficult to read. Signage with too much print can often result in a “blur affect” which occurs when there is so much text without white space that the signage becomes difficult, even impossible to read.

Adding more space makes the signage easier to read and consequently allows the Attendee to receive your message.

(What is this sign saying? It was supposed to mean “no strollers allowed”.)

The goal of this type of signage is to quickly convey some information or educational content to Attendees.

If the content projected is coded (into symbols) they can then be used as a motivator for future action. It is important to develop intrinsic signage as a mechanism to overcome objections. For example, if people object to buying a product because they have never heard of it, then the signage should say” four out of five dentists choose Crest”, if it is a new product try “introducing our new extruder max available at your local hardware store” or “widget service launched in May 2010”. If they don’t buy because they think a company doesn’t have good distribution, a sign showing global channels of distribution by locations with connecting lines would really help Attendees to see that an Exhibitor could readily serve their global needs. Often, these signs are not directional in nature. For example, a “no smoking” sign informs people that they cannot smoke in this area, but it does not direct them to areas where smoking is acceptable.

Third: Promotional Action

Promotional signage is used to generate a defined call to action regarding an event, activity, product or service offering which makes it ideal for the preference phase. Unlike an intrinsic sign, the call to action is by nature, directly or implicitly, participation or conversion oriented. Examples of this type of signage might be something that says “try our new drill press today,” “attend the president’s banquet,” “sign up for next year’s event today,” “take advantage of our show special”. This form of signage is designed to create an emotion in order to drive a physical response or call to action. For example this next sign is attempting to draw dentists into practicing in the Northwestern United States by connecting to their emotional appreciation for the wilderness and outdoor lifestyle just minutes from the city.

(Notice the strong call to “come practice”.)

Fourth: Recognition / Reward

This type of signage is used to identify the contributions of a person and/or entity which make it an ideal mechanism for subgroup building. Often it involves some sort of “thank you” message for the time, treasures or talents of the person or entity being recognized. They can also be lists of Customers (using branded icons) who currently use the products thanking them for their commitment to the company. This can be helpful in creating bonds between the members and building a sense of community. It can also recognize the “local heroes”. Local heroes are necessary for the growth and nurturing of a community because it gives Attendees someone to look up to and aspire to be like. These are the kindred spirits who ventured out into the frontier and mapped the way for others. These are the people who fought the fight and paved the way or who rose from nothing to become the leaders today. These are also the people who give back to the subculture.


(This signage promotes the global community of the event)

Often these four types are used in combinations; for example, a sign may have directional information that guides an Attendee to an educational session while simultaneously recognizing the company that sponsored the educational session.

Or a sign may have a recognition piece such as a brief statement about someone donating a large sum of money to research which will be performed by a drug company who also uses the sign to show a promotional piece about the cutting edge new research they are performing. Or it might combine information about some innovative humanitarian efforts with recognition of the supporters like th water for children sign on the next page (who wouldn’t want their name on this support list?).


(Recognition creates a desire to belong.)


(Who wouldn’t want to support unifying causes like this?)

Some shows like the True Value Hardware Show and the American Association of Criticalcare Nurses use signs that recognize Attendees by highlighting their success stories from the show along with directional information to the booth that helped them. They have a picture of a store owner with information telling how he saved 20% on his paint by implementing a system he saw in booth number 1105 at the show. This recognizes the Attendees and injects soulful social capital. It also promotes the show by providing clear examples of the benefits of actively attending.

(Recognition creates local heroes. Nice job!)

Good signage motivates a response. It moves people to perform specific predetermined “call to action” behaviors. However, never ask a sign to do too much. The more things you try to do with a sign the more difficult it is for the Attendee to receive the essential message. It also makes it difficult for Attendees to execute the appropriate response. For more examples of good and bad signage please visit our website.


(A strong call to action.)

With that in mind, take a look at the booth signage and ask yourself what the signage is accomplishing. Ask if it is brief and to the point where necessary. Make sure the message and the branding match. Identify how to use symbols like pictures and icons optimally. See if you can cut the text down and keep it all consistent. Signage and displays should be self-serve and should express the soul of the company clearly in harmony with your Target Attendee. At the awareness building phase signage messaging should provide the intrinsic value stream of information to Target Attendees in order to help achieve goals and objectives. If a company is brand new the signage should clearly tell who they are and what they do in order to establish the brand. If creating awareness about a merger provide a list of the five benefits of the merger. Include pictures of all the products that can now be purchased together.


(Textures show the range of offering.)

A booth space with the correctly focused signage and graphics can create a great lasting first impression.


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