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Images with Messages

Images with Messages

Informative signage enhances the display at the sushi station in Hearst Corp.’s Cafe 57

Effective visual communication—signage, photos, price tags and labels—give customers the information they need to make choices easily. Don’t think only about menu boards, but also about a station’s name, product labels and wrapping and informational cards that add value to the way customers perceive particular items.

Interior signage was once considered strictly utilitarian, but today operators have many tools—including new types of digital signage that can be easily updated—with which to take visual communication to an entirely new level.


Each type of facility has its own unique requirements for identification and wayfinding. The visual cues that work for an elementary school café will likely be less effective in B&I. Knowing the kind of information your customers need to make choices is important.

According to Kathy Diamond, principal of Kathy Diamond Design Associates, the measure of a well-conceived signage program is both the enhanced functionality it provides to customers and the aesthetic appeal it offers to increase sales and repeat customers.

“The more a customer can see and understand with their eyes, the more they will purchase,” she says.

The first question: Do the visual cues you provide match the theme of an operation and the characteristics of typical customers?

“The signs you use must complement your theme and your design while communicating clearly and effectively” says Diamond. “The signs must project your operation’s philosophy and values. They also serve another purpose: they are your café’s ‘storyteller,’ and provide an unconscious narrative that can have much to do with a customer’s comfort level and affinity with your operation.”

Other things to consider when developing signage: the length of the message given the time for potential exposure to customers; the nature of the message (promotional, directional or informational); its relevance with respect to the activity taking place or the offerings presented; and the overall balance of its

content (the ratio of text to visual information). The need for informative signs is more acute during busy periods when there is less time for personal contact.

“You want signage to have a continuous presence from the entrance to the checkout,” says Nancy Lane, education account development manager for Hubert Co. “Don’t overload the signs, but don’t over-edit them either. Achieving informational balance is key.”


Exterior directional and informational signage is equally important and should be designed to integrate with the interior program.

“I call exterior signage the 1-3 minute zone,” says Orlando Espinosa, principal of Orlando Espinosa + Associates. “It needs to entice the customer to come in and buy your products. This is an excellent place to use new media communications like email blasts, text messages or digital signage.”

The next zone is the ‘destination zone,’ usually the entrance to a café. At this point you need to have a welcome sign that explains your operation by displaying hours of operation, specials of the day, upcoming events or promotions, etc.

New Media Signage

Digital communication is a developing technological opportunity operators are looking to incorporate into their merchandising strategies.

“When plasma screen menu boards were introduced a few years ago, some operations got carried away,” says Espinosa. “The thinking was, ‘if one is good, more are better.’ If you overdo such visual stimulation it can overload the customer.”

He suggests combining digital signage with more traditional methods. “Some use of video is good. All video is overwhelming.”

3 Easy Visual Communication Fixes:

  1. Establish the Context: Understand the nature of shopper behavior in the purchase environment.
  2. Choose the best type of sign to communicate messages in the given environment (i.e. static, backlit, digital) and be sure to balance it with other types of communication.
  3. Employ labels and signs as a silent sales force. Price mark each item to inform and stimulate sales, but be sure labels are attached the the correct products.
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