The Science Of Conspicuity: How To Enhance The Visibility Of On-Premise Signage

The Science Of Conspicuity: How To Enhance The Visibility Of On-Premise Signage

Today’s post shares critical findings from the International Journal of Signage and Wayfinding that can help business owners enhance the conspicuity of their on-premise signs to drive branding and sales.

Read on or call 888-765-7446 to find a sign conspicuity expert in your area.

On-Premise Signs Are Highly Effective But Often Unoptimized

The benefits of on-premise signs (OPS) are well-known; for starters, they “provide direction to current and new customers, build brand awareness and facilitate impulse sales” (Auffrey & Hildebrandt, 2017, p. 101). They also contribute to an area’s sense of place, whether it’s New York’s iconic Times Squares or a historic downtown area, and research has shown a direct correlation between OPS quality and “job creation, sales, and income taxes that fund essential local services” (p. 101).

But did you know that approximately one-third of all on-premise, highway-facing signage goes unnoticed?

That’s what researchers Christopher Auffrey and Henry Hildebrandt concluded in a 2017 study by the International Journal of Signage and Wayfinding, which looked at the extent to which on-premise signs (OPS) placed along US roadways attracted the attention of passing motorists.

The average probability of on-premise signage being spotted by passing motorists was only 57% for the local small business group, and only 66% for the “primary sign” group, made up of bigger national and regional businesses. That means at least a full one-third of sign buyers aren’t optimizing their conspicuity, which burns up their sign budgets with no real returns.

Fortunately, the science of conspicuity is rapidly advancing, and business owners can greatly enhance their sign visibility by following some of the best practices highlighted in the research. What follows is a look at two of the critical factors for sign conspicuity to help your signs get noticed.

The Science Of Conspicuity: How To Get Your On-premise Sign Spotted

  • Context is king. “The environmental context of an on-premise sign has a major impact on whether a seemingly well-designed and located OPS is seen by motorists” (Auffrey & Hildebrandt, 2017, p. 106).Unfortunately, many businesses opt for seemingly standard designs and placements (often based on national franchise requirements), which fail to consider the ground-level environment in which the business operates.

    When designing your sign and surveying the site, look for opportunities to create contrast. Most people understand that contrasting colors are important for effective designs, but they’re equally important during installation. For instance, avoid mounting a red-faced sign against a red brick wall, or placing a green-faced sign in front of a hedgerow. Swapping those sign positions (e.g. red-on-green and green-on-red) creates much better contrast.

  • Avoid creating “competitive environments” with your sign system. Research by the European Transport Research Review highlighted how in some cases consistency within a sign system can actually hinder conspicuity in some cases by creating competition between similar signage. Check out this image from Figure 2 (Porathe & Strand, 2011):
    The Science of Conspicuity: How to Enhance the Visibility of On-Premise Signage

While each sign is in itself highly visible, using strong contrast, prominent iconography, and clear messages, the repetitive color schemes create a “competitive environment” that diminishes the conspicuity of all signs.

Consistency between branded signage is a good thing, but competitive “sign clusters” should be avoided. Instead, spread these similar sign types out throughout your sign system, using ancillary signage as “connectors” as needed.

Optimize Sign Conspicuity With Signworld Partners Near You

Call 888-765-7446 or visit the Signworld website to find a Signworld partner near you and get help optimizing your on-premise sign conspicuity today.


Auffrey, C., & Hildebrandt, H. (2017). Do motorists see business signs? Maybe. Maybe not. A study of the probability that motorists view on-premise signs. Interdisciplinary Journal of Signage and Wayfinding, 1(2), 100-115.

Porathe, T., & Strand, L. (2011). Which sign is more visible? Measuring the visibility of traffic signs through the conspicuity index method. European Transport Research Review, 3(1), 35-45.


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