Sign of the Times: Creating Signage Customers Will Actually Read

By Lyn M. Falk, Retailworks, Inc.

Sign pollution. It’s alive and well in the U.S.A., yet customers don’t read most of the signage posted in retail environments. Here’s why:

  • Poorly designed signs with too many words
  • Signs not located in key focal areas
  • Signs outdated
  • Just too many to read

And if a salesperson is available, customers go on autopilot and simply ask their question, rather than having to use their brains to read and digest information on a sign.

So how do you create signs customers will actually read?

First, take inventory of your current signs.

Do you have too many signs on your selling floor? Are they all necessary? Are any beyond their “due date” and need to be taken down?

Do they all coordinate? Or are the designs disparate? If your signs are not consistently designed and your sales floor is littered with them, your customers’ brains will simply bypass reading them because it takes too much time and energy to make sense of them all.

Then, define your permanent sign categories.

Signage categories include logo, directional, informational, department and vendor signs. Also note your temporary signs, such as promotional, sale and product description signs.

Next, create “design criteria” for your family of signs.

Such criteria could include overall size; font; graphics; color; material; and frame and/or sign holder. When you consistently use a coordinated set of design elements, you train your customer to look for the “sale” signs, or to look for your “product info” signs when they want information about an item. 

Here are some criteria tips:

  • Less is more. Incorporate symbols, photos and graphic images to communicate messages in order to eliminate using a lot of words.
  • Don’t handwrite your signs. Unless you are changing prices daily, handwritten signs are a no-no. They decrease the value of your brand, and customers are more likely to negotiate price when they see a handwritten sign.
  • Don’t tape signs to your windows. Again, this cheapens the image of your store. Instead, put the signs in acrylic sign holders with suction cups for a more professional look.

Place your signs strategically.

For example, customers should be able to quickly see directional signs from a distance, and informational signs should be placed along main traffic aisles or on the wall behind your transaction counter. Also, place your logo in several places throughout your store to reinforce your brand, starting at, on or around your transaction counter. Be sure to illuminate these more important, permanent signs.

Finally, designate one person as your “Sign Director.”

This person will oversee the creation, installation and removal of your signs. No sign goes up without the Director’s approval, and no vendor can install a sign without his or her permission. Just as communities and shopping centers have rules for exterior signage, your staff and vendors need to abide by your sign rules.  

Once you’ve completed these five steps, schedule an annual “sign audit.” Even with procedures in place, you’ll be surprised how some signs stay up beyond their timeline, how vendors manage to put up additional signs, or how the store runs out of standard sign holders and someone ends up improvising. Remember, the consistent use of design elements is key to keeping your sign system looking good, and consistency in implementation is key to keeping the program running smoothly!

In summary, think before you just slap up a sign. Ask yourself: Is it necessary? Is it well designed? Will it be seen by a customer when they need to see it? Know that you can actually train your customers to find, read and understand your signage via the consistent use of design elements.

Lyn M. Falk is owner/president of Retailworks Inc., an award-winning design, branding and display consultancy. A registered interior designer, BrandSource guest speaker, and contributor to AVB’s showroom Makeover Manual, Falk has devoted over 36 years to helping retailers build healthy, purposeful and productive spaces that move hearts, minds and merchandise. Contact Lyn at

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