signage guidelines

Tuesday, October 23, 2012 | access g&b

Signs should be:

Clear;   Concise;   Consistent;   Only used when necessary.

Most signs can be divided into four groups:

Getting Around;  Direction;  Location;  Safety.

Some basic guidelines on signs:

The location of the sign needs to be where it can most easily be seen it should not be an obstruction and its view should not be obstructed – by things like summer tree and plant growth. The text height and sign size should be decided based on whether the sign needs to be read close up or from a distance.

Lighting is very important which means that signs should not be located in areas that are gloomy or don’t receive appropriate supplementary lighting.

Signs for room identification should be located at eye level and and on the latch/door knob side of the door.

The content of a sign with lots of sections – like a hospital department sign, should be grouped together alphabetically, or by floor, or by department. This should be in the format of small groups of messages not one large list.

Signs that identify rooms should be simple and concise with no abbreviation also descriptive words such as ‘Personnel’ do not need to be followed by ‘Department’.

Use numbers where possible as Visually Impaired people recognise these more easily than names.

Examples of good and bad signs:

Use capitals to begin nouns or sentences then continue in lower case, there should be no full stops between initials and no full stops at the end of the message.

Good Bad


Dr L Benton Dr.L.C. Benton

Car Park Car Park.

There are several internationally recognised symbols which should be at least 100mm in height and these should be used on signs where appropriate.

These are:

– Accessibility for disabled people

– Symbol for visual impairment

– Hearing impairment

– Text telephone (TDD symbol)


Arrows should always conform to ISO 7001 recommendation. On large boards with a number of messages use single arrow instead of arrow for each message. Messages on signs should be aligned to the right or to the left according to the direction indicated by the arrow. Arrows indicating direction to left, straight ahead or down should be placed on left hand side of message. Arrows indicating direction to the right should be placed on right hand side of the message.

Examples of good and bad signs

Good Bad

I<-Reception I I Reception ->I

I Reception->I I Reception-> I


Fonts should be sans-serif like: Helvetica Medium or Arial, Avant Garde and Futura. Embossed signs should be Helvetica. Don’t use italics or exaggerated typefaces like Old English.


Character size is related to reading distance so for signs which are to be read at long distance e.g. entrances or house numbers then the minimum character size should be 150mm. Identification signs which are used in reception areas or direction signs in corridors are classed as medium range reading and the character size should e between 50-100mm. Signs on directories or wall mounted information signs are classed as close up reading and should be a minimum character size of 15-25mm.

Embossed signs

Embossed signs should be located where they can easily be touched. Height should be between 1400m and 700mm above finished floor level. Characters should be raised from surface by 1mm-1.5mm and the thickness of each stroke of the letter should be such that both sides of the stroke can be felt with the finger in one pass. The minimum character height between 15mm-50mm, the stroke width should be 1.5mm-5mm for a 15mm letter height and pro rata for larger letters. Inter –character spacing should be increased between 20-30% inter-word spacing by 25%.


If Braille is to be used in signs then a locator should be situated on the left hand edge of the sign, the Braille dots should be rounded and located directly below the text on the left hand side. A small embossed arrow can be used to indicate direction either before or after the Braille.


Margins can be helpful because they allow more tonal contrast between the message and the background.

Borders A border may be useful to ensure effective colour contrast but should not overpower the letters, 10% of the lower case letter height is good.

How Many Words Per Line?

A suggested maximum would be 12-14 letters per line including spaces or 3 to 4 words per line. Colour and contrast Contrast is the difference in colour between all the elements of the sign. This is really important as bad contrast will mean sign will disappear in background. Good contrast will mean the sign stands out.

Colour Selection

Use few colours as possible and avoid colours which may conflict with fire and safety signs. It is important to check the background against which the sign is to be seen. E.g. black letters on a white sign would not be helpful if positioned on a white wall. Here are some useful tips:


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