Your sign has just five seconds to create that all important first impression. That’s shorter than the attention span of a goldfish. Fail to hook your audience in that time and your sign will fail.

But in a digital marketing landscape, why do signs still matter? It’s not an either/or. Signs and billboards should be an integral part of your marketing mix and at the heart of your communication strategy. In fact billboard marketing (or Out Of Home marketing) reaches 98% of the British public at least once a week and is a significant influencer of impulse buying with 64% of the public citing persuasive signs as a factor in their purchasing decision.

Signs and billboards are great news for small business too, triggering a 38% boost in mobile engagement while over a quarter of customers were prompted to visit a website after seeing an eye-catching sign.

Picking the right sign

If you want to set your business up for success, you need to know why you need a sign and where it will be displayed.

  • Banners and foam board signs are the right choice for indoor and outdoor events depending on the durability of the materials you use – think showcasing a sale or promoting an event.
  • Magnetic car signs and vehicle wraps function like mobile billboards and get your message and contact details to places where your target audience are.
  • Window decals and digital wallpaper are ideal for retail premises that want to grab the consumer’s attention.
  • Billboards deliver passive advertising that allows consumers to pull out the information they want rather than having it pushed at them by advertisers.

5 steps to memorable sign design

If you want to create a memorable first impression, the first thing you need to do is design a sign. 83% of people tend to remember a killer sign or billboard in the thirty minutes before they start shopping  so you need to differentiate your sign from the competition with great design.

If that seems intimidating, then break it down into the following five steps. These are basic best practice principles that apply to any sign or billboard:

1. KISS me quick

Keep It Simple Stupid (KISS) should be the guiding principle of all signage design. In fact, the larger your sign, the less complex your message should be. Typography can be a low-fi way to create a huge impact. A teaser text in a classic big and bold font is legible, accessible and thought-provoking.

  • Use bold san serif fonts.
  • Avoid script fonts with thin strokes.
  • Use the 1-10 rule: 1 inch of text provides 10 ft of readability.
  • The bigger the sign, the less complex the message.

2. Surprise with visuals

Visuals are a brilliant way to get your message across but treat them as a design element so they integrate with the rest of the design. The bigger the sign or billboard, the higher resolution your visual elements should be.

  • Use a high-quality JPG or PDF file for imagery.
  • Use high-resolution professional photography.
  • Have your logo designed by a professional.

3. Location, location, location

Research conducted in 2012 by the University of Cincinnati found that 35% of consumers say they’ve been drawn into an unfamiliar shop because of a well designed and located sign. Think about the way your sign or billboard’s location connects with your customers on a personal level. In turn, this will influence the choice of message and visuals. Location also impacts on whether you attract customers to your business premises or raise brand awareness.

4. Create a contrast

Contrast between the colours you use is critical in creating a compelling sign that is also readable and accessible for all. Keep it bright and bold using your branding colours as a central part of the scheme. Remember, you only have 5 seconds to pique your customer’s interest.

  • High contrast like yellow on black delivers visibility and readability.
  • Use the 60/30/10 rule (most commonly used in interior design colour choice but equally applicable here) focusing on your brand colours.

5. Matte or gloss?

In designing your sign, be aware of the substrate you’ll be using.

  • Matte works best for a text centred design that needs readability.
  • Gloss makes a highly visual sign stand out.

Armed with these 5 tips, you’ll create a standout sign or billboard that gets your business noticed.


Joe Day is the founder of Signman, a Bristol and Bath based sign company. You can connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.