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INSIGHTS: Communicate health and safety to employees and customers with effective signage

D Reeves 2018

Dana Reeves, AIA, NCIDQ

Commercial Workplace Practice Leader


It’s more important than ever for businesses to provide clear guidance.

Think about all the actions we are being guided to do as we live through our first pandemic. “Wash your hands for 20 seconds.” “Stay 6 feet apart.” “Wear a face covering.” “Stay behind the red line at the cashier.” “Stand on the dots on the floor to stay in line.” “Follow the circulation paths.” “Don’t touch the touchscreen.” “Don’t stand in the middle of the aisle.”

It’s confusing and overwhelming to keep up with.

As states lift stay-at-home orders and businesses reopen, it is more important than ever for businesses to provide clear guidance to employees, guests and customers on the actions they’re expected to take while in that place of business, leaving personal preference and confusion at the door. Unclear messages or ambiguous instructions lead to more uncertainty when businesses should be communicating comfort and trust, so employees can do their jobs well, and their customers can enjoy themselves.

In an earlier article, we shared top tips for creating your “return to the workplace” plan. Once that plan is in place, it’s just as important to use signage and markers within the space to educate and reinforce those guidelines once people start to return.

Signage Best Practices

Below are a few best practices to follow when creating your signage:

INSIGHTS RTW directional signage

Guide the Experience

Your signage should complement your return plan and guide employees and guests/customers in the appropriate manner. Walk through the experience for your customers, office guests and employees to determine key signage points. Understand not only where to communicate information, but what exactly you want to say.

  • Look for thresholds between spaces where people move through the different programmed places.
  • Appreciate the high-traffic areas, or pinch points, where people may habitually congregate (“Are you staying 6 feet apart?”).
  • Think about restroom areas and corridors, as well as common spaces like conference rooms and community rooms (“Please wipe down the community keyboard after using”).
  • Consider where old habits may kick-in, like kitchens and restrooms. (“Use gloves when using the communal equipment”, “Wash for 20 seconds!”).
  • Envision the signage placement to ensure they can be read easily.
  • Locate the signage throughout your business appropriately (don’t over-sign or under-sign) so that everyone will anticipate where and when to find and follow directions.
Sign Article Expectations Image

Set Expectations from the Start

Start your wayfinding early in the experience, as soon as people enter your place of business. This might include wayfinding signage at the entrances to the site, your parking lot or garage (“Welcome! We are open for business but be prepared to stay healthy and safe. Bring your face covering!”), or front doors and front desk area (“Please answer these five health & safety questions prior to being admitted”, “Remember to follow these rules when in the building”).

Doing so will send a message that your business has clearly defined expectations and will provide helpful reminders that keep your employees and customer safe.

Sign Article Billboard Rule

Follow the Billboard Rule

The best signage quickly communicates a message, like a billboard on the highway. The general rule-of-thumb is that you have five seconds (maybe less!) to get your message across, which means using less copy and more visuals. This could be pictures of people demonstrating the desired action (i.e. wearing face coverings), icons (i.e. hands under a faucet) or the use of analogies to convey a concept (i.e. a picture of alligator to indicate six feet social distancing in your kitchen area).

Your signs will be quick to understand and likely more memorable. A consistent tone will promote legibility that will build the confidence that you know what you are doing—reassuring everyone.

Digital Wall Screen sign article

Mix up the Mediums

Signage printed on a simple sheet of paper can certainly be effective, but if you have the opportunity, we recommend using a combination of mediums to share your messages. Have an audio system? Make a friendly announcement every hour or so with a “health and safety tip”. Have TVs or screens in public places? Upload key messages or record video of your own employees or business leaders providing reminders. Need to guide the flow of traffic? Place vinyl floor decals in key spots. Appreciate that the more ways you can send your message the more effectively it will be received.

INSIGHTS RTW Signage branding3

Leverage your Brand

Whenever possible, your messaging and method for signage should reflect your brand graphically, tonally and by material. This will make the message feel like it truly fits in the space and belongs to your brand. It should not appear haphazard or slipshod as it represents to everyone that these actions and guidelines are being adopted by your business to assure them that it is safe to work and use the space.

Communicating Confidence

Remember you are not only communicating a collective set of behaviors for everyone to follow, but you are also communicating confidence and reliability that will dispel uncertainty and worry that will follow the reopening of businesses.

Well-designed signage, thoughtfully located, will communicate the right message to your employees and customers.