Print Design Parallels With Airport Signage

It's all about leading the way!

When you're traveling, it's always stressful to worry about how you're going to navigate a new and unfamiliar environment. How will you make your connection at the airport or train station? How will you get to your hotel? And once you're settled in, how will you get around from place to place?

Success and failure in these departments generally has to do with the quality of signage we encounter on our travels. And part of the responsibility of printers and print designers is to develop signs and other printed materials that clearly present information to the confused, disoriented, and otherwise adrift.

But how do you go about assembling a collection of print materials that will be displayed throughout a large area? You need to know the lay of the land, pay attention to the small differences required by each piece, and imagine how to best connect each piece visually, one to the next.

If these types of sign displays do their job REALLY well, they'll also funnel traffic in such a way that they reduce operating costs, and increase profits. Think about how a store like IKEA funnels traffic with signs and arrows, creating a complete shopping experience that leaves you wondering, at the end how you could have possibly spent so much money.

Along this vein, a recent post over at DesignWorkPlan made me appreciate the fact that in the world of printing for shoppers and travelers, the signage in airports is pretty darn good. Although I'm always scared of airports, they're actually easy to navigate, as long as you follow the signs.

DesignWorkPlan author Sander Baumann made some good points about creating effective airport signage design that I think transfer well to all forms of print materials:

  • If you can, observe the visual surroundings that printed materials will be displayed in. What is the flow of traffic like? What are the dominant background colors that could wash out a sign? How will lighting patterns affect visibility?
  • Employ a basic color scheme and be consistent with color throughout the array of print collateral being developed. This will lead the eye naturally from sign to sign.
  • Contrast a dark background color with a bright foreground of wording and images. This is the best way to make sure signs can be read in low light and busy crowd situations.
  • Combine wording and images that reinforce each other without confusion. This is the best way to make sure people of all languages and backgrounds can understand signs.

The Arrow Question

Sander points out that arrows are incredibly important in airport signage design. This is also true when it comes to things like outdoor directional printing and voting station signage. But arrows aren't always effective in print design. As much as they help to point the way, print materials that are placed haphazardly run the risk of pointing in the wrong direction! Which means it's worthwhile to use arrows in print design only when you're sure that the placement of the poster, banner, or other sign will be correct.

It's not always the case, but when we do have the opportunity to consider visual environment before creating a piece of print design, I think we have the opportunity to make what we create that much more effective, helpful, and even compelling.

Thanks for the interesting insights, Sander!

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