Morton Marcus: Signage is for strangers



Recently, I searched for a business that had moved from one site to another.

I drove into the complex of buildings to which I knew they had moved, but their name was not to be found on any entrance sign. Hence, I called the firm’s office, where a recording assured me my call was appreciated and a return call would be made.

Undaunted, I made three stops at different buildings before realizing the firm was unknown to its neighbors. Fortunately, late as I was, someone did call to see if I had forgotten the appointment. I was informed they were located in a large building with a sign for an unrelated law firm.

Inside that building, I found the correct office number and walked down a corridor looking for that entry. In time, I reached a sign where that number was posted as being behind me. Somewhat panicked, I entered an open door to an office where a kind soul offered instructions for finding the desired doorway.

Now, 15 minutes late, I proceed to deliver one of my patented diatribes about the value of good signage. It was good venting, but an unpleasant introduction to several people I did not know.

Have you sought a particular address only to discover you cannot find addresses on entryways? Wouldn’t it make sense for the owners of those shops to make their building addresses clearly visible?

Apparently not. The bigger the ego housed in a structure, the less information available about the location. Hence, we get The Bloater Building competing with First Empire Place for attention. Neither appears on a street map or your GPS.

Here and there on a state highway, you might miss an exit or cause an accident because the route north or south is not readable at 50 mph and is contrary to intuition.

Streets often break out of a rational sequence. You may note street names in alphabetic order (Apple Ave., Brontosaurus Blvd., Carrot Causeway), only to find the next street is Raunchy Road.

Busy streets need prominent signs indicating the next significant cross street. Drivers of all ages benefit from large, standard fonts on street signs. In places with many suburbs, the town names need to be prominent. My Main Street may not be your Main Street.

Numbering of buildings often changes at the town line. Streets all over the world change their names by crossing invisible lines of demarcation.

I get dyspepsia following signs pointing to the city hall, only to find the governmental buildings have names of honorable departed persons and no indication of the offices housed therein.

Often, if you ask someone for directions, you will be given “that look” that conveys the old Hoosier adage, “If you don’t know where you are, you don’t belong here.”

Morton Marcus is an economist. You can contact him at [email protected]. You also can follow his and those of John Guy on “Who Gets What?” wherever podcasts are available.