The best signs are the ones that use images – and not just because they provide decoration! You might think that text-only signs are perfectly adequate for getting your message across, but (as the old saying goes) a picture really is worth a thousand words. If you can incorporate images into your signage, you should definitely take advantage of the opportunity… and we’re going to explain why!
First and foremost, images make a sign more striking. They draw the eye in a way that text sometimes doesn’t. We humans are visual animals and our eyes pick up on anything that looks interesting or unusual. In other words, adding an image to a sign makes it more likely that the sign will be noticed in the first place. Remember we all adhere to warning signs when driving, and signs that give us direction to ensure we remain within the law, a no smoking sign for example. Most of these have no words at all.
Once you have a viewer’s attention, images can also do a lot to clarify a sign’s meaning. For example, there are signs near the escalators on the London Underground that instruct dog-owners that “small dogs must be carried”. We can all agree that chihuahuas are definitely “small” and that mastiffs definitely aren’t, but there’s a huge range of breeds between those two that occupy something of a grey area. Are short-legged Staffordshire bull terriers considered too petite to ride an escalator unaided? What about Basenjis? A simple image showing what size of dog the sign-owner was thinking of could help make the sign a great deal clearer.
While it might be amusing to picture people’s confusion over the “small dogs must be carried” sign, the need for images to clarify the meaning of text becomes even more apparent when you imagine the same kind of confusion ensuing over signs relating to workplace safety. In that context, any misunderstanding could be hazardous or even fatal.
Images aren’t just there to clarify a sign’s text, however. The signs with the best designs feature images that can get the message across to people who can’t read English. If you’re putting up important safety or security signs in an environment where they might be viewed by people who aren’t native English speakers (or even by people who might struggle with written language due to disorders such as dyslexia), it’s vital that the meaning of the sign be conveyed without text. Images help bridge the gap that language sometimes creates, so they make signs more accessible to more people.
If you have to put up signs, consider using ones that make use of imagery to get their point across: it may save a lot of confusion.