Sign, sign, everywhere a sign

Almost every website, brochure or poster has that familiar phrase at the end: ‘For further information …’.

But is more information necessarily better?

‘Information overload’ is a recognised problem in many fields, from management decision making to emergency care. In 2018, a report in the United Kingdom examined the impact of information overload on drivers. The Department for Transport review found that the number of road signs had doubled in the past 20 years, and drivers were now confronted by 4.3 million signs throughout Britain.

Most importantly, it found that ‘information overload for drivers can contribute to driver distraction, and have a detrimental impact on road safety’.

More information did not mean better understanding; it just meant that important messages were lost in the noise.

The review recommended that thousands of unnecessary signs be taken down. This included entire categories of signs that the review found were completely pointless, such as signs warning of upcoming traffic lights or roundabouts.

Some councils in Australia, such as Adelaide and Mosman, have also looked to remove unnecessary signs in recent years. For example, Mosman has removed 30 signs on one road alone.

When we are designing an item of communication – whether it is a webpage, brochure, report or poster – it’s useful to think about whether all the information we are presenting is needed and helpful, or whether it is just clutter. Reducing the number of ‘signs’ just might mean that our audience gets the information they need.