Keeping street signs simple

27Dec12

While seeing some family over the holidays, I found myself in the car heading to a big nature preserve. We knew roughly how to get there, but still had to rely on street signs to figure out where to turn. At one intersection in particular, neither of us in the car could figure out which road we were approaching until it was too late to get into the correct lane.

Why the difficulty? Apparently, some genius decided to make the text much smaller so they could cram the words “Mall entrance” right under the street name. This was particularly amusing, since the mall entrance itself was so huge that it was basically impossible to miss. Putting the same info on the small road sign was not only unnecessary, but made the sign far less useful for people who were trying to discern the street name from further away — in our case, to determine that it wasn’t the place we needed to turn.

A straightforward rule of thumb can help prevent this type of mishap. If you’re designing a street sign that may also need to identify a landmark that the street leads to, take a look at any existing signage or other visual cues. If those cues already make it obvious that the landmark is right there, and assuming that you’re free to include or exclude a reference to the landmark, then it’s best to leave that text off the sign.

In other words, if you only have a single, fixed-size sign to work with, people are probably best-served by a simple approach that makes the street name as large as possible. By keeping distractions and clutter to a minimum and letting the landmark’s existing signage do its job, you’ll make it easier for drivers and pedestrians to find their destination, without forcing them to decipher overly-cramped street signs at the last minute.



One Response to “Keeping street signs simple”

  1. I agree. Simple and big enough to read that you’re not squinting to figure it out.


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