Signage Complexity: Consumers’ Response to Display Signs

Effective signage plays an important role in attracting customers and driving sales. However, designing the perfect sign is not as simple as it may seem. One key factor that can significantly impact a sign’s effectiveness is its complexity. 

In this article, we will explore the concept of signage complexity and how it influences consumer response to display signs. We will also discuss how we at Signworld Group, a leading signage company in the UK, can help businesses navigate this complex landscape and create signs that effectively engage and persuade customers.

What is Signage Complexity?

Signage complexity refers to the amount and intricacy of information presented on a display sign. A simple sign may contain just a few words or a single image, while a complex sign can include multiple messages, images, colours, and design elements. The perceived complexity of a sign is subjective and can vary from person to person based on factors like their knowledge, involvement level, and personal preferences.

Research has shown that there is an inverted U-shaped relationship between visual complexity and consumer response. 

This means that signs with a moderate level of complexity tend to be the most appealing and effective at capturing consumer attention. Signs that are too simple may not provide enough information or functionality, while overly complex signs can overwhelm consumers and lead to cognitive overload.

The Impact of Signage Complexity on Visual Attention

One key way that signage complexity influences consumer response is through its impact on visual attention. Studies have found that consumers allocate more visual attention to complex signs, as measured by metrics like fixation count (the number of times a person’s gaze lands on the sign) and total fixation duration (the total time spent looking at the sign).

For example, a study by Behe et al. (2020) examined how sign complexity affected visual attention and purchase intention for garden centre products. The researchers had experts rate 105 real garden centre signs for complexity and then selected 5 low, moderate, and high complexity signs for the study. 

Using eye-tracking technology, they found that subjects allocated greater visual attention (higher fixation count and longer total fixation duration) to the more complex signs, which were also rated as the most attractive.

However, while complex signs may be effective at grabbing attention, they can also have downsides. Highly complex signs with a lot of information can slow down cognitive processing and deplete a person’s attention capacity. This cognitive load can distract from the main goal of the sign, which is to motivate a purchase. Therefore, striking the right balance of complexity is key.

Signage Complexity and Purchase Intention

In addition to influencing visual attention, signage complexity can also impact a consumer’s likelihood of buying a product. The Behe et al. (2020) study found some interesting results in this area. 

While subjects rated the highly complex signs as the most attractive, regression analysis showed that sign attractiveness and fixation count were positive predictors of likelihood to buy, while complexity and total fixation duration were inversely related to purchase intention.

Further mediation analysis revealed that fixation duration fully mediates the impact of fixation count on purchase intention. In other words, signs that attracted a high number of fixations but for short durations were the most effective at driving purchase intent. 

The researchers suggest that information-rich messaging in highly complex signs, while seen as attractive, may give consumers too much information and increase cognitive load, making the purchase decision more difficult.

Other studies have found that consumer characteristics can influence the perception of complexity and its impact on purchase behaviour. For example, another study found that knowledge is a significant moderator for visual, technical, and lexical dimensions of complexity. 

Highly involved consumers who are knowledgeable about a product category may appreciate and be persuaded by more information-rich, complex messages. In contrast, less involved consumers may find highly complex signs overwhelming.

Recommendations for Effective Signage Design

Based on the research, here are some recommendations for designing effective retail signage:

  1. Aim for moderate complexity: Signs with a medium level of complexity tend to be the most visually appealing and effective at capturing attention without overwhelming consumers. Avoid overly simplistic designs that lack important information, but also be wary of cramming in too much.
  2. Prioritise key information: While complex signs can be attractive, focus on highlighting the most essential information and calls to action. Use visual hierarchy principles like size, colour, and placement to draw attention to the most important elements.
  3. Consider your target audience: Think about the knowledge level and involvement of your core customers. More knowledgeable, highly involved consumers may appreciate more detailed, complex signage, while a general audience may respond better to streamlined messaging.
  4. Test and iterate: Consumer response to signage complexity can be highly subjective. Consider testing out different designs with your target audience to see what resonates best. Use tools like A/B testing and eye-tracking to gather data and refine your approach over time.

How Signworld Group Can Help?

At Signworld Group, we understand the effectiveness of signage design. Our team of experts stays up-to-date on the latest research and best practices to help our clients create signs that drive real business results.

Whether you need help striking the right balance of complexity, crafting compelling messaging, or analysing the performance of your signs, we’re here to help. Our comprehensive services include:

  • Professional design consultation to help you create signs that are both attractive and effective
  • High-quality production using state-of-the-art equipment and materials
  • Installation and maintenance to ensure your signs look great and function properly over time
  • Performance tracking and analysis to measure the impact of your signage and identify opportunities for optimisation

With over 25 years of experience serving businesses across the UK, Signworld Group is your partner for signage success. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you harness the power of effective signage complexity to engage customers and boost your bottom line.



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