On Saturday, I attended the London region meeting of the Professional Speakers Association, which is held in the lovely Art Deco RIBA building near Regent’s Park.

As I sat and waited in the foyer for my guest to arrive, I watched one attendee after another walk in and ask the receptionist where the meeting was. This, despite the fact that there was a sign, right in the middle of the reception desk, stating the room and the floor.

The receptionist went off to fulfil some other duties, and one attendee after another walked in and asked ME where the meeting was. The sign was still there, but they just didn’t see it.

After I’d given directions a couple of times, I stood up, walked over, and positioned the sign diagonally at the corner of the desk, right in the line of sight of anyone entering the building (as shown).


Every other attendee I observed arriving looked straight at the sign and headed off immediately – they didn’t even notice me sitting opposite the desk.

So why am I telling you this?

Because one of my interests is cognitive psychology (particularly, how the brain processes words and symbols on paper and on screen), and how this affects navigation, signage and information design.

To me, it was common sense to put the sign where people could see it, rather than in a place where it was obviously being overlooked.

In supermarkets, branded products are displayed in the main eyeline of each aisle to help people find related products quickly. Next time you visit, have a look at the baked bean display and see where they’ve placed the Heinz cans compared with their own-brand.

In print, the eye usually follows a Z-pattern as it scans the page. On websites, it’s an F-pattern. (Although designers can make clever use use of white space to change this.)

You need to know what to put where to ensure your reader looks where you want them to look, and takes the action you want them to take. Ask me if you’d like some help with this.

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