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Sign Design Tips: Customer Psychology Insights For Mind-Blowing Marketing

Jan 25,2021

Sign Design Tips: Customer Psychology Insights For Mind-Blowing Marketing

Today’s post reviews a series of peer-reviewed studies on the psychology of sign reading to explain how even small signs with minimal sales copy can have a big impact. Read on to learn a bit about the science of sign design, or call 410-877-6011 for a free consultation in Maryland.

The Science Of Sign Design: Signs As Inferential Cues

Back in 1973, in a study titled Cue Utilization in the Quality Perception Process, researchers identified the way signs may serve as “inferential cues and basis for thin-slice judgements about the businesses they represent” (Olson & Jacoby, 1973). Put simply, consumers infer business character and quality at-a-glance, within seconds of looking at signage.

Accordingly, it’s possible to send a surprisingly detailed message to viewers using a few simple sign design elements, subconsciously communicating your brand values with only a few words, instead of overwhelming them with a wall of text requiring “effortful processing.” Elsewhere, researchers have already noted that optimizing sign design for thin-slice judgments may be more effective than designing signs “under an assumption that people will stop, read, and think” (Kellaris & Machleit, 2016, p. 8).

So how do you design signs for thin-slicing? Read on.

Seeding Positive Inferences With Sign Design For Better Branding

Decades after Olson & Jacoby’s report, in a 2016 study Interdisciplinary Journal of Signage and Wayfinding, researchers Kellaris and Machleit described how a local hole-in-the-wall restaurant leveraged these principles of customer psychology to great effect with a simple and irreverent sign design, creating impactful branding with only a few words.

In this case, the little hole-in-the-wall restaurant placed a single sign in the window that reads, “Get in here!” That’s it.

Consider for a moment how this sign design is not intended to operate. It is definitely not meant to be read as instructions to be mindlessly obeyed. The business owner is not trying to order anyone around.

Instead, what is more likely is that viewers will see the sign and crack a smile, grinning at the way this marketing approach defies expectations and pokes fun at the whole idea of a call-to-action. Accordingly, people infer a sense of fun, whimsy, and lightheartedness that aligns with the brand identity. Many viewers will associate this casual wording with casual dining, and make inferences about pricing and menu items. All this inferential meaning came from a single glance, and from a simple 3-word sign design.

This particular sign design might not be right for your brand, but this case study reveals the potential of seeding inferential cues into your sign design. This approach allows businesses to embrace the principles of “less is more,” while still grabbing viewers by the brain stem for some deep, unconscious branding effects.

If you’re interested in learning more about how we can factor customer psychology into your sign design, get in touch with our team today!

Free Quote On Custom Sign Design In Baltimore, MD

Call 410-877-6011 or visit the Baltimore Signs & Graphics website to start a free sign design consultation and get a same-day quote on any custom sign design.


Kellaris, J. J., & Machleit, K. A. (2016). Signage as marketing communication: A conceptual model and research propositions. Interdisciplinary Journal of Signage and Wayfinding, 1(1).

Olson, J. C., & Jacoby, J. (1972). Cue utilization in the quality perception process. ACR Special Volumes.

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