Here are two signs. The one on the left is in the grounds of a museum in New York City. It says, “Jousters wanted for seasonal employment. Must work knights.” Assuming it’s a bit of fun rather than a job advert, it’s delightful. A few words presented seriously can be very playful. It adds to the character of the place, at little cost.

The one on the right is closer to (my) home. This is one for anyone who believes the NHS is overly managed and perhaps bureaucratic. What is this sign saying? To whom? I can tell you, as I was standing outside it, that this is the entrance to Walton Community Hospital. That’s despite what the sign says. I’ve never heard of this Hub thing and have no idea what to expect of it or when I’d need it. Presumably this sign reflects some internal NHS regional organisation. But really, who needs to know that as they turn up for their appointment at Walton Community Hospital? It’s less than friendly isn’t it, and anything but patient-centric. Makes you wonder who thought that was a good idea. The no-smoking message is important, but like this?

Spare a thought for the staff who see these signs every day. Hardly inspiring. I’m betting there are people hard at work in internal communications teams in the NHS, maybe even in the Thames whatsit Hub, thinking about culture and engagement and how happy staff allegedly make happy customers (I say allegedly because here’s a counter-argument). They’ll have worked out a strategy and there’ll be all sorts of channels for execution – magazines and emails and team briefings and the like. That doesn’t come cheap.

Signage, on the other hand, is relatively cheap and long-lasting. Consequently, it tends to be delegated to property people who execute with cost and logistics in mind. This is truly a missed opportunity. Signage is outstanding value for money. It reaches staff and customers, day in day out. It deserves time and thought. A sign may be the first thing a customer sees. Care is needed unless “Keep off the grass” is indeed the welcoming message a hotel wishes to deliver to arriving guests. There’s form and content in a sign. Used thoughtfully, it’s an opportunity. In the wrong hands, gaffs may result.

Comment | October 2019