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There are a number of common signage design mistakes that are made when designing spaces, signage and the system for navigation and wayfinding and in this post I look at some of these mistakes and the solutions!

Signage design mistakes to avoid

1. Signs Places after Decisions Points

Bad signage

Bad signage because of the decision point placement.

Decision points are very important and  as you can see from this diagram (above), the signage is out of the line of sight, for the person walking and this is really no good. The signage needs to be in the correct position and in the diagram below, you can see that as they’re walking towards the sign, they have time to make the correct decision. And this is really the way signage needs to be. You need to have the signage at the right decision points.


2. Not Making Use of Space in Wayfinding Design

The use of space is very important as well in wayfinding. Sometimes you just do not need to use signage. Sometimes you do BUT the use of space is very, very important and sometimes the main walkways and the main directions can be naturally obvious, from the use of space.

Using space in design

This is a great picture (above) because you can see from the aerial view, how they’ve used space to guide people and how the paths naturally guide people.

3. Clutter, clustering and Signage

So when we talk about clustering, this (below) is a great example from a bus coach station in Plymouth, England. You can see that there are so many different types of signage. The welcome signage, the parking signage, it’s just cluttered and there just shouldn’t be that much information in one area.

Signage cluttering and clustering in a bus and coach station in England

4. Making Basic Signage Design Mistakes

Signage arrows design for good user experience UX

Designing arrows on signage for a good user experience UX

And in this picture above, this is a typical piece of signage that you might see in any airport in the world. And I don’t know if you can see the mistakes but – there are two mistakes that I’m going to point out right now! One of the them is arrows pointing INTO the text! This is not a good idea because it makes it harder for people to digest the information sub-consciously.

The arrows should always be pointing away from the text. So if you look at the ‘Departures’ or the ‘Information point’ text above, the arrow should be on the right side of those two terms. Another problem here is that terms on the sign are wrongly grouped together. ‘Toilets’ and ‘Baby Changing’ for example, refer to the same type of facility, so they should be consecutively listed. So even with this kind of signage there’s an easy chance that you can make a mistake. So care should really be made to this type of signage.

5. Not Maintaining the Signage

Another classic problem and cause of signage design mistakes that I’m going to show you now (see below) is a badly maintained signs.

Badly maintained road signage in UK

Loose signage

Beach sign in Brighton, England

Hospital directions on signage

I think from the pictures you can see above, it’s quite obvious that with a little care and a little attention, the wayfinding system could be a huge amount clearer, and with proportionately little effort and cost. These three signs are quite amusing in a way, but they need to be maintained!

6. Not Making Use of Human Resources

One of the most valuable resources when you’re planning a wayfinding system, are the staff and the people who work in the location, that you are designing for. If you talk to staff they will very often get asked the same questions day in, day out, about ‘where can I find this’, ‘where can i find that’. And so by asking your staff you can really, really zone in on the problems of the system and very often people forget to do this. So make use of the human resources. Make use of your staff and make sure you evaluate the problems that already exist in the system.

7. Not Having a Planned System Hierarchy

Signage hierarchy for designing signs

Another common problem is not having a system hierarchy planned and in existence. So if you can plan what are the most important signs, signs of intermediate importance and lower importance, then you can begin to really understand how to sign an environment such as an airport. So you do not need to, for example, promote where the shops and restaurants are at every point in the airport. You can wait until they’re through security and you may not even need to sign the shops and restaurants because they will automatically visually see those things.

So for departure gates or for security, they would have a higher importance, so you need to be able to guide people through those key areas. So you really need to start planning, what are the most important, the intermediate and the lower importance signage items.

8. Not Considering All User Types

disabled access

When it comes to thinking about all user types, then we need to think about disabled people, people travelling with children, the elderly. There are so many different user types that we need to consider and the idea of special assistance – it can cater for a really wide variety of user types – and we need to realise, for example, that somebody in a wheelchair – they may enter the main terminal and they may not be looking to check-in first of all.

What they may be looking for first is the special assistance desk. So even when you’re signing the main terminal, you need the special assistance to be visible or at least easy to find. NOT everyone will be going and taking the same routes. So we need to think very carefully about all these different user types.

You should actually have a checklist for disabled travellers, for people travelling with children – have different checklists so that when you audit the airport, or whatever type of travel space you are dealing with, that you actually do an audit for every different one of these user types, so that you can make sure you have a really efficient system in place.

9. Mixing Different Signage Types

Confusing signage in Sicily Italy

Another problem that people can make is mixing different types of signage. It’s very common in Italy where you often see road signage (for giving directions), that is mixed up with restaurant information and hotel information. So it can be really confusing when you’ve got ten or twenty pieces of signage all plastered together and it’s thus almost impossible to read as you’re driving by. This isn’t such a problem in airports and in other locations, but just watch out for mixing different types of signage because it is best avoided.

10. Using the Wrong Solutions

Spotlight lighting for navigation

And finally, the 10th issue that I am going to raise today is using the wrong solutions at the wrong time, in wayfinding. In this example above, using lighting can be a really great idea but at the times it is mostly going to be busy, in this theatre example on the steps, it’s going to be full of people. So the likelihood that people will be able to read this text is quite low, thus this is maybe not the right solution. Perhaps it does help some people, but the most important thing is to just consider the different options and different tools that you can use for wayfinding.


assistance seating” width=”750″ height=”379″ />

In this final example above, it’s going to be difficult to read the signage if someone is sat on that far right seat. So something needs to be done, whether it’s the position of the sign that needs to be changed or whether another solution is actually needed. Just make sure to pay attention to these things. Do think carefully if you need electronic signage for example. Sometimes you don’t because a simple piece of signage can be more than suitable. So just think about the different solutions.

Online wayfinding and dda courses

Video Dialogue: Hello – I’m Paul from and I’m going to talk about ten of the most common mistakes that people make when designing a wayfinding system. So let’s get into it:

Thank you for reading the post above. I hope that some of the tips were useful. I know they’re quite basic but in future post and videos I’m going to go into more detail and more technical ideas and points. But that’s not a bad start I hope. I hope you subscribe  to the Wayfinding Youtube Channel!

Signage design training

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Dr Paul Symonds has a PhD in Wayfinding from Cardiff Metropolitan University in the UK. Paul works with the signage industry, airports and other locations providing wayfinding audits, consultancy and training.