Harper Grey: The Consumer Side of Signs

Retail Insights with Harper Grey


Many of the signs in any community are generated by businesses or organizations. Signs that identify stores, custom sale banners, signs advertising 5k runs for charities, vinyl banners for the local health department… most are created and displayed for some kind of official use.

But regular people use signage, too. Sometimes to great effect… sometimes not so much.


Our neighborhood has a small country club where weddings are often held. We’re located in a very small bedroom community outside of Salt Lake City, so many of the bride’s and groom’s guests are traveling from the city and aren’t familiar with the neighborhood.

The developer, in his apparently infinite wisdom, decided that the neighborhood didn’t really need unique street names. Instead, he named every twisted, winding street the same thing: Country Club. Then he listed the house numbers for each street on the sign. So someone who lives at 450 Country Club could live a half mile from someone who lives at 230 Country Club. This, of course, is incredibly confusing for visitors.

It’s hard to include directions in an invitation: Turn right on Country Club. Then turn left on the third Country Club. Turn right at the first street (which is Country Club) and you’ll be at… the country club. Oh my.

So the people who decide to hold their special day at the club have a big problem: How to get guests to the event without getting hopelessly lost.

Some couples completely overlook the problem until the day of the wedding. Then they realize that no one is going to be able to find them. So they grab a couple paper plates, scribble their names on them and tape them to a few street signs (sometimes with duct tape). Very classy.

This, unfortunately, seems to be the signage I most often see.

I have noticed a few professionally-printed signs for weddings. Professionally-printed yard signs or small banners, placed strategically on a few street corners, help guide guests directly to the country club. And they look good while they do it.

Who spends $25,000 on a wedding, only to slap up a paper plate with an arrow pointing the way to the party? Unorganized people. Many, many unorganized people.

Family Reunions and Parties

Honestly, reunions and large family parties can be kind of a hassle. You have to put together a dessert or salad or whatever potluck item you’re supposed to bring. Then you have to dress the kids up, make sure their faces are clean and lecture them on proper manners. Once food and kids are ready, you have to find the darn thing, try to remember the names of all the relatives you haven’t seen for three years and have a smile on your face while you do it.

This summer, I attended two large family parties. One had great signage. One didn’t. Betcha can’t guess which one I liked best.

Reunion at the Amusement Park

We attended a family reunion for my husband’s family that included far-flung family members and third cousins twice removed (or some such. The point is, we didn’t know 90% of the people there). It was held at an amusement park, where we were supposed to meet for dinner at the pavilion that had been reserved.

This park has a LOT of pavilions (family reunions are really popular in Utah) and they’re all grouped together in one, huge picnic area. Each pavilion has a cute, unique name, but you need a map to locate it. And if you’re not smart enough to grab a map at the park entrance, you soon find yourself on the opposite end of the park, wandering around through mazes of pavilions full of families hosting reunions.

So we were weaving our way through hundreds of happy, hot dog-eating families and looking for “Aspen” or “Birch” or some kind of tree (we’d left the invitation home, too, so we couldn’t even remember the name of the stupid pavilion—we just knew it was some kind of tree. Not helpful). And of course, we didn’t know most of the people who are attending the event, so we couldn’t just look for familiar faces.

Some families had large banners installed at their pavilions. Had we been attending the Watson Family Reunion, the Taylor Family Reunion or the Super Smith Steppin’ Stompers Reunion, we’d have found our party quickly.

After almost an hour of searching, we gave up. Instead, we went and bought some $8 hot dogs from the park vendor and hit the roller coasters. Later that evening, we ran into my husband’s brother, who pointed us to the correct pavilion. It turned out that there was a sign. It was hand-written on red poster board with darker red ink and placed in the back of the pavilion where it was completely obscured by the people standing in front of it all night.

Birthday in the Canyon

My great-aunt celebrated her 80th birthday last summer. The family decided to hold a big shin-dig outdoors, surrounded by pine trees and fresh mountain air. Here in Utah, we have numerous canyons that are located just minutes from downtown Salt Lake. Campgrounds and picnic spots number in the thousands, so it can be tricky to find your party unless you know right where to go.

Families tend to nail paper plates near the entrance to the campground where their party is held. What is it with Utahns and paper plate signage? It doesn’t work very well. Every family has the same white paper plate, so you have to slow down and read every single one to find your event. And if it’s windy (which it often is in Utah’s canyons), the plates blow away. And if it rains a bit, the plates become a soggy, unreadable clump.

But my cousins were organized. Not only did they provide a comprehensive map with the invitation, they placed signage from the bottom of the canyon, all the way to the campground six miles up. The signs were professionally printed yard signs, so even though it rained that morning, the signs were still just like new. We drove up the canyon and followed the signs all the way to the campground, right to the party.

6 Reasons to Use Professionally Printed Signage

When you’re getting ready to host an event, don’t forget the signage. But please, please don’t get out the paper plates! Instead, design and order vinyl banners or yard signs. Why? Here are six reasons to use professionally printed signage.

  1. Properly installed, your signage will help direct guests right to your door (or whatever venue you’ve chosen). They’ll arrive on time, cheerful and ready to party; not half an hour late, frustrated and grouchy after driving in circles.
  2. They’re weather-proof, so if it rains before (or during) your party, your guests will still be able to find your event.
  3. Your signage will look classy, not tacky.
  4. Signage can be designed to coordinate with your event decorations, which adds to a more cohesive overall feel.
  5. Printed signs are clear and easy to read. Use a large, sans-serif font and your guests won’t drive into a tree trying to read tiny text printed with a ballpoint pen on dark cardstock.
  6. Yard signs and banners are an inexpensive addition to your event budget. Considering the benefits, they’re well worth it.