What Message Are You Sending with the Signs in Your Public Areas?

“No service without proper ID!”

“No Outside Food or Drink.”


“Absolutely NO PARKING in this area.”

All government offices are filled with people whose work is, ultimately, about serving the public. But some offices serve the public more directly by providing direct service to customers who physically walk in the door.

Unfortunately, not all of the signs posted to communicate with those customers are written with the customer in mind. Instead, many are phrased in ways that highlight frustrations of staff.

While this is true of many businesses, too–just think of all the “NO” signs on the entry doors to some establishments–in those cases the customer is free to go to a competitor. In the case of government offices, the customer probably has no choice but to use that office and that service. When we greet people with signs that essentially say “here’s what we expect that you’ll do wrong and we find it very annoying so don’t,” there’s a huge missed opportunity.

Instead, we could write our signs in a reader-centered way to create a more positive impression of government services and the staff that provide them. Invite your customers to positively participate in what your agency is trying to accomplish.

“Please have your ID available so that we can assist you today. Acceptable ID includes…”

“Please help us maintain the plumbing by not disposing of hygiene products in the toilet.”

“Your patronage of our concession stand helps pay for pool maintenance.”

“We’re sorry you have to wait in line. If you use this time to make sure you have these 3 forms prepared, it’ll help us serve you more quickly.”

“Public parking is available behind the building.”

Once you’ve assessed the messages you’re sending to the public, you might also review the signs posted for staff and see whether some new wording might improve the tone of the workplace.