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Signs of success: make event signage work for you

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Nobody notices great event signage. When signage is well planned and beautifully designed, attendees move seamlessly from session to session, find what they’re looking for and know where they are at all times. They feel the theme of the event and note the great sponsors who are helping it succeed. They don’t consciously notice the signs; they can stay focused on the program.

Bad signage? We’ve all been to that meeting. Where am I? What room is this? Why did the arrow say to go this way (and what am I doing in the parking garage)? Everyone notices bad signage.

Today, there are tons of great materials and technologies to give your signage that “wow” factor, but before you start making holograms or firing up the lasers, let’s rethink why we actually need signage and what makes it really work for your event.

Signage 101: basic types of signage

We all know this intuitively, but let’s break it down and look at the roles signage plays.

Most signage will fall into one of these four categories: identification, information, direction or warning.

types of signage 

Identification signage:

RVC registration

  • Everything should “breathe” your organization’s brand. From electrostatics on exterior doors to floor stickers to the registration booth, put your logo, name and colours front and centre in your design.
  • Simple designs with one dominant colour will have the greatest impact.
  • Dress staff and volunteers in your event colour, use bouquets of brand-coloured helium balloons to add a festive touch, or use wall and floor projections to really “own” the space.
  • Sponsor leaderboards can quickly turn into a jumble of logos that benefits no one. Rethink how you offer sponsors visibility. Can there be sponsor-specific zones or activities? Can a sponsor present the sign-in screen for Wi-Fi? (The Palais des congrès de Montréal has lots of great ideas like this.)
  • Don’t forget exits: studies show that “last impressions” are very powerful because our brains retain most recent events. You can post a “save the date” for next year with signs or electrostatics installed at exits near the end of the event.

Information signage:

CHEST2015 charging station

  • Studies show that bold, sans-serif fonts like Arial and Helvetica have the best readability.
  • Go for strong contrast between letters/graphics and the background.
  • Use shades of colour or symbols to represent program tracks or themes.
  • Think about eye level: you shouldn’t have to strain or stoop to read important information.
  • Whenever available, maximize the use of digital screens for information signage – this makes it easy to communicate room changes or timely reminders.

Directional signage:

palais-signage-tech-event-montreal

  • All the design principles cited above for information signage apply here.
  • Floor plans are great for planning, but nothing can replace a walk-through to identify blind spots, bottlenecks and potentially confusing paths. Walk the walk and take lots of notes.
  • Keep text to an absolute minimum and use internationally-recognized symbols whenever information can be clearly conveyed graphically. The American Institute of Graphic Arts has a vast catalogue of symbols you can use, free of charge, in EPS and GIF formats.
  • Change happens: consider formats that can be changed on the fly, like Velcro arrows and chalk boards. Digital screens, of course, offer the greatest flexibility, when available in key areas.
  • Have volunteers or staff dressed in your colours hold signs at key intersections at peak times to make sure everyone gets where they want to go.
  • Fun fact: There is a design activism project underway to transform the standard wheelchair accessibility signage to something more dynamic and inclusive of people with disabilities. The Accessible Icon Project offers their redesigned icon free for use in the public domain.

Warnings and advisories:

Caution

  • Most often, this signage is the responsibility of the venue (emergency exits, regulations, safety notices).
  • If you have specific behaviours that are prohibited, such as no recording of sessions or no food or drink in rooms, have a highly visible pop-up banner or panel on an easel at the boundary where this applies (outside of the meeting room or auditorium).
  • Many events now post “Consent to be filmed” disclaimer panels in high-traffic areas to advise attendees that they will shooting photo or video content of the event. Make sure these signs are highly visible, are easy to read and understand, and clearly explain what content will be created and who will be using it. 

A few words about sustainable signage
video-wall-palais-des-congres-montreal
It’s inevitable that some signage will need to be disposed of after your event but you can plan for greater sustainability. Limit the use of non-recyclables like foam board or adhesive vinyl and opt for recyclable materials like cardboard whenever possible. Make an investment in the future by investing in durable materials than can be re-used for identification and directional signage. Integrate venue maps into your mobile app and, of course, maximize the use of digital signage in your venue. 

For more great tips and case studies, download MPI’s excellent white paper, Signs for the Times

Photos: C2 Montréal, RVC 2016, Eva Blue | CHEST 2015, Daniel Baylis | convention centre signage courtesy Palais des congrès de Montréal

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