The Bar Room Brawl
In the days of my misspent youth, I occasionally entered a pub or a nightclub, sometimes a basement alley bar and even the occasional live music venue.
Obviously, I was there for research purposes, checking out the signs in those establishments to see what worked best. Referring back to my notes I recall that the beer signs were effective … so too the wines. Sometimes the single malt scotch signage was poor and several times the toilet directional signs could be improved!
You probably don’t conduct research on signs the way I do (so diligently!) - so I assume you never had cause to frequent these places –but let me tell you what it was like. Generally it was loud … VERY LOUD. It could be midnight or daylight, hot as blazes or freezing cold, but it was always loud! I found that I had to lean close and cup my hands around someone’s ear, then yell to be heard. I found that short words, as loud as I could make them, worked the best.
When helping clients plan their signage, I sometimes find this is a good reference – because communicating in the modern marketplace can be very similar. You might be one business, bouncing around in a sea of advertising and marketing communication noise where there are strobe lights flashing, people dancing, music pumping and one or two idiots intent on ruining the night for everyone else.
- In your marketplace are there lots of people jostling for space?
- Are there some people with microphones who seem able to dominate the space?
- Are there crazy people doing stupid things which distract your target audience when you’re trying to talk to them?
- Does it sometimes feel like a respectable conversation is way too hard?
Unfortunately, this is not just a silly story – it’s the reality of communicating in the frantic world of day to day business. If you’re trying to communicate into that space, and you want to be heard, you can take some lessons from the bar room brawl analogy.
If you’re planning signage in a “noisy” environment and you want people to hear you:
How could you make your sign “louder?” Could it be bigger?
What might a “loud” design be. Strong designs help you stand out in visual space. (Hint: sometimes less is more – talk to an experienced designer if you need help here.)
-Use as few words as possible
In a noisy bar, you can’t communicate subtle nuances of thought with a drawn out monologue. As a general signage principle – and especially in a noisy environment: use … less … words.
Remember loud doesn’t always equal beautiful. Being heard in a basement nightclub is never a delicate thing, but you can take bright colours, patterns, crazy fonts and outlines too far! You may need to consider a level of trade-off between aesthetic elegance and raw power, but loud doesn’t always mean you should copy the patterns off your urban wear from the early 80s either. Talk to a good designer if you’re unsure, but you need to find a balance where you do include strong strong visual elements, but you don’t simply make it too hard to ready your sign.
So to get the best result from your signage, consider how noisy the environment is where you’re trying to communicate, and look for a way to cut through the noise and be heard.