Give us a sign

For my money, businesses never have enough signs. To answer: Where am I? Where is the section I’m looking for? Where are the bathrooms, an open register, the entrance by where I parked?

Signs should use words. Then color as a redundant cue. (Some people are color-blind.) Then icons. (Most icons aren’t as recognizable as .)

Use walls, end-caps, shelves, and the floor. While it doesn’t help the color-blind, I love the cue of colored tape on the ground I can follow from here to my destination. Well-designed maps, with You Are Here marked, a legend, and an index. A floor directory at each entrance, and in every elevator. Single-floor directories at the top and bottom of every escalator. A grid system.

If possible, when an item could logically be located in more than one place, put copies in both. If you can’t, put a sign in one place that directs customers to the other. This is especially useful when you have to follow a system that may not make sense to them.

For instance, since most computer books are shelved under the Dewey Decimal System near 005, have a sign that alerts patrons to the fact that some are also at 620.

There’s an exasperating fad in retail of regularly reorganizing what’s where in the store. Apparently timed to be maximally frustrating for customers who’ve just learned where everything is. Sometimes there’ll be maps of what’s where now. I have never seen signs where something was, telling me where it is now.

I understand the logic of making customers wander, in expectation that they’ll find more things to buy along the way to what they came for. That’s why perishables are at opposite ends of a supermarket—so every customer has to walk the length of the store every time.

But it also ticks people off. Who may just leave without buying anything, and go to a store that’s been designed to be helpful.

All of this applies to web sites. Do old internal links still work? Do stale links on the site redirect (HTTP status 301) to their new location? Is the 404 page helpful? Is there a sitemap? Are there both simple and power searches? Categories and tags? Bread crumbs? Are your buttons strictly icons? Or are they all accompanied by text, either always visible or as tooltip? Is color a redundant cue?

So what do you think?