A Small Business Guide to Sign Design Best Practice


Every small business needs signage for a variety of purposes. This guide will explain what factors must be taken into account in order to deliver great quality signage that fits your needs.

1. Know what signage you need

Most businesses will need a variety of signage and by ordering a batch at once, you can often obtain cost efficiencies and better rates from your supplier. Do an audit and consider what sort of signage your customers need, what your staff need, what you must provide from a regulatory perspective and so forth. For example, you are likely to need:

  • Shop frontage or premises signage
  • Informational signage, such as for a reception area and office rooms
  • Locational and directional signage if you have physical premises
  • Regulatory signage, such as for health and safety

2. Consider your materials

Your material choice will depend on a number of factors such as:

  • Your location for the signage and the means by which it will need to be installed
  • Your budget
  • The likely lifespan of the sign
  • The quality of finished result that you need

Many businesses are now investing in digital signage to present information that regularly changes. Examples include advertising hoarding boards, in-store POS displays and reception area information. Digital signs are highly engaging, easy to update, eco-friendly due to their lack of waste and also cost-effective once the initial equipment cost has been purchased.

Other types of signage will also be required. For example, a trade show might simply require a basic pop-up stand. A pop-up shop might only need an A-board. Regulatory signs have prescribed materials which make the decision easy by default.

3. Work with your supplier

You must ensure that your signs are professionally produced for the right kind of impact. Find a supplier who can fulfil your needs and provide advice where necessary. For example, you may need a site visit or design service. You may also need guidance for sign positioning and accessibility to ensure that your customers, employees and other stakeholders can see it and read it.

4. Think about the design

Your sign needs to pop and stand out so as soon as someone looks at it they know what it’s about and what you do. The more time you can invest in perfecting the design, therefore, the better your results will be, especially if you are investing in long-term fixed signage which is expensive and which cannot be changed without incurring a significant cost.

Remember that there are a variety of types of corporate signs and although those which are regulated, such as health and safety signage, will already come with approved designs and simply need to be professionally printed.

5. Think about legibility

Most people will look at your sign from a distance of about 5-10 feet away. So choose a font which is clearly legible. A sans serif font is a good choice here as it is clean and crisp. It is safer to avoid fancy scripts and scrolls unless perhaps you are creating a piece of branded signage which is less about information giving and more about identifying your premises. Don’t use more than two fonts and make sure that the finished text is large enough to be readable. A graphic designer will be able to apply readability rules here.

Keep your messaging as tight and as minimal as possible. If you go overboard, your end-user will not be able to read the sign and will give up. Add the information that you need and use a copywriter if necessary to remove superfluous words and to tighten up the language. Don’t be tempted to add extras to ‘make use of the space’. for example, advertising, directional and premises signage doesn’t need a dozen different contact routes. Just provide the ones which are most relevant to your users.

Work out whether the sign will be read by your end-users at the point of transit, the point of sale or the point of wait and tailor what you say accordingly. [1]

Another vital aspect of the sign design is colour. Remember that contrast is key for visibility and sometimes the best signage is the simplest. Look for a dark text on a light background for maximum contrast. You can still use your branding, but refer to the brand guidelines for the company or ask your graphic designer for a steer. Remember, your sign isn’t a piece of marketing collateral in its own right, it is there for a tightly-defined purpose.

6. Planning for digital

If you are using digital signage, you will have far more flexibility over the design as you can refine your approach and user test it continuously. But you will still need a designed template to use and must familiarise the staff charged with updating the content with the software that drives the hardware.

7. Test and review

When your signage is in place, get feedback from your end-users to see if it hits the mark. Use this feedback to guide any future signage that you need to produce and you’ll continue to improve and refine your approach.