Psychology of Signage

Signage is a medium for showcasing a brand and its values. There are various ways in which individuals interpret signage – factors like typography, color scheme and symbols interact with the subconscious perception of the viewer and affect the success of the sign as a communication device.



Typography is a fundamental characteristic of signage. The Bauhaus School, founded in 1919, taught typography and is credited with the development of modern-day graphic design. Bauhaus-style typography taught that the typographer must be both a skilled technician and an artist. The same is true for top graphic designers in the signage industry – they must have both fluency in the range of typestyles available and the connotations that each conveys.

Design is key to the effectiveness of a sign. Problems with typography or layout subvert the purpose of the sign as a positive branding message. Below are 3 top typeface characteristics:

  • Readability: Depends on factors like font height, viewing distance, and ADA compliance, which limits certain signs to Sans-Serif fonts.
  • Appropriateness: Determined by the typeface appearing consistent with the brand standards and architectural features of the building.
  • Attractiveness: Based on if the design is balanced with an aesthetically pleasing typeface that is ADA-compliant.


A common typeface mistake is simply enlarging the letter size for signage applications. This method can cause issues when enlarging certain typefaces; For example, fonts with thin strokes may not be visible from a distance. Each sign will require the eye of a designer to make it as balanced and legible as possible.

Another mistake is failing to adjust the white space between letters. Letters that are centered on equidistant points appear uneven in larger applications like signage. Poor spacing in some letter combinations may call for slight manual adjustments to please the eye. This process is known in the printing industry as kerning.

Experiments have demonstrated that the ability to perceive word meaning depends more on the shape, size and context of the word than on deciphering individual letters. While uppercase letters are traditionally preferred by sign designers, lowercase letters have the advantage of distinctive shapes that can be identified at a distance due to a more recognizable profile.


Colors have symbolic qualities that elicit unique responses in the viewer and impact their perception of a brand. Color combined with typography and symbols are vitally important to the messaging of a sign. Another factor is the vibrancy of color, or how dark or light a color is. Brighter shades tend to be perceived as more energetic, while darker shades can have a more relaxing effect.

Below is a quick rundown of a few color-theory fundamentals in branding:

  • Red: Excitement, adventure, warning
  • Blue: Calmness, serenity, meditation
  • Green: Freshness, youth, nature, stability
  • Yellow: Cheerfulness, warmth, alert
  • Black: Powerful, sophisticated, confident
  • White: Virtuous, clean, health


When designing for signage applications, Light Reflectance Value should also always be considered. The Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) recommend a contrast in Light Reflectance Values between sign text and background colors of 70% or above. However, this an ideal guideline and not a requirement – value contrasts below the 70% rule of thumb can still provide enough contrast for low vision users to read clearly.

ASI offers a free LRV Contrast Calculator to simplify the process of ensuring your signage color choices meet or come close to the 70% contrast mark. Alternatively, you can use the calculation Contrast % = [(B1 – B2) / B1] x 100, where B1 = LRV of lighter area and B2 = LRV of darker area.

Symbols and logos

The use of logo design for businesses has become widespread if not universal within the last 100 years. These simple, iconic designs represent the unique values and mission of a brand. Just as handwriting styles convey personal characteristics, so does the design of symbols and logos.

  • Pointed or triangular shapes: Conveys energy, activity or quick thinking
  • Rounded shapes: Conveys a docile, peaceful, gentle nature
  • Square shapes: Conveys mechanical or scientific ability and inventiveness


While considered a modern phenomenon, the roots of logos and symbols trace back hundreds, even thousands of years. Humans throughout recorded history have visually communicated their identity – from hieroglyphics to family crests. Early versions of the modern logo trace back to the Thirteenth Century when storefronts began using signage to identify themselves. Logo design is steeped in historical meaning alongside our subconscious interpretations of color, symbols and typography.

With our 60 years of experience in signage, ASI has been in the forefront of innovation in the industry. Our experienced Sales Consultants and Graphic Designers have the tools, training and know-how to bring your vision to life. Request a Consultation today to discuss how we can assist your organization in achieving your signage goals.



Taylor, Charles , Susan Claus, R. , and Claus, Thomas (2005), On-Premise Signs as Storefront Marketing Devices and Systems. Washington, DC: U.S. Small Business Administration.