Sign Messaging

If a sign is all about the message, this one delivers some very powerful, nonverbal cues. Are words the most important part of your signage? Or are you using subtleties to your advantage? This sign on the right is a great example of how the message of a sign can go beyond just the words.

Communicating Well With Signage

A message is defined as information conveyed by words in speech or writing, with other signs and symbols. Messages can be verbal or nonverbal. Therefore a message is the content of the communication process.

In signage the originator of the message is known as the sender. Making sure the receiver or viewer understands the message seems logical. But is it that simple?

Ensuring that the verbal and nonverbal cues align is critical. This allows a message to be interpreted in truth, and without uncertainty. And let’s face it, this is very important in even the most simple safety signs or traffic signage.
Using Subtleties to your Advantage

Being aware of subtleties in your signage is a great advantage.  A subtle touch may mean that your viewer is less overwhelmed when interpreting a sign. Often in a highly stimulating environment, too many sights and clutter will detract from a sign’s meaning.

Before considering the messaging on a sign, it is useful to consider some key considerations.

Firstly, will the message strike the right chord in the relationship between you and your intended recipient? Will it be too familiar or assume a level of understanding in the audience which is correct?

Secondly, will the wording assume a familiarity that is either too formal or informal? We all have different ways of expressing ourselves and it is easy to offend by taking a tack that is to casual, for example. How to strike the right balance with a sign that maybe seen by millions of viewers across a global audience is an art.

Thirdly, a sign’s message may also carry unintended meanings that you cannot completely anticipate. Some words are loaded with meaning for some people, so that by using such words you can appear insensitive. As a result, the literal meaning of each word becomes a complex issue to navigate.

The Theory of Messages

When considering how to effectively use verbal communication, keep in mind there are three distinct types of messages you will be communicating: primary, secondary, and auxiliary#.

  1. Primary messages refer to the intentional content, both verbal and nonverbal. These are the words or ways you choose to express yourself, the language and how the message is shown on the signage. For example, if a traffic sign says ” these words are the primary message. So, fairly unambiguous and clear? But even such a short, seemingly simple and direct message could be misunderstood. Equally, as in Covid-19, unclear messaging in ethnic communities in Melbourne have led to a shortfall in health communications and a resurgence of the virus.
  2. Secondary messages look at the unintentional content – both verbal and nonverbal. For instance your viewers will form impressions of your intentional messages, both negative and positive, over which you have no control. This may relate to age, gender, ethnicity or simple mannerisms. There are many ways that shapes, patterns and colours can unintentionally influence the message. For instance, red for Warning signs. We know that a physicist might say that red colours are scattered least by fog or smoke and hence can be seen from furthest away. A biologist may answer is that nature uses red as a warning colour because it stands out most vividly against a green background.  However, Warning signs in China have black borders on a yellow background, so red isn’t always the first choice for signalling danger. This is potentially confusing for Chinese travelling in Australia.
  3. Auxiliary messages refer to the intentional and unintentional ways a primary message is communicated. This may include vocal inflection, gestures and posture, or rate of speech that influence the interpretation or perception of your message. In signage this relates to….
Parts of a Message

Good sign design is very important. When you create a sign message, it is often helpful to think of it as having 4 parts:

  1. Attention statement
  2. Body
  3. Conclusion
  4. Residual message

Each of these parts has its own function.

The attention statement, as you may guess, is used to capture the attention of your audience. While it may be used anywhere in your message, it is especially useful at the outset.

After the introduction comes the body of your message. Here you will present your message in detail, using any of a variety of tactics. For instance a selling point, an offer, a call to action, a clear guide, a symbol, an instruction or an image.

At the end of the message, the conclusion should provide the audience with a sense of closure by summarizing the main points.

The residual message is a message or thought that stays with your audience well after the communication is finished. As a result it is an important part of your message.

The Final Wrap

So when developing your sign message, ask yourself of the following:

What do I want my listeners or readers to remember?
What information requires action?
How do I want the audience to react?

There’s alot to consider with signage design and it all starts with a conversation. Give one of our team a call on +8 9274 5151 or contact us via email today!

SOURCE: #Hasling, J. (1998). Audience, message, speaker. Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill.
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