3. Pair graphics with text

3. Pair graphics with text

People understand and respond to visual images better than text, especially in situations in which a decision about how to use something (such as a recycling bin) is made in seconds. Graphics also overcome language barriers by focusing on images rather than words. Pairing the images with simple text, that support the images, can help to improve user understanding of the program and reduce contamination. It helps to use images of items that are commonly generated in the public space; for example, a recycling bin at a sports facility would show images of pop cans, water bottles and juice bottles paired with the word “Recycle”.

A study conducted at the University of Toronto showed signage that combined images with text experienced the fastest recognition and shortest decision making time and achieved the highest diversion rates. To read more about the study click here.

Did you know?

Realistic images are more easily recognized and understood than icons.

Signage Gallery


See samples of effective and ineffective public space signage in our signage gallery.

Shared Experience

268 Town of Whitby – Perfecting Indoor Public Space Recycling, 2011

The Town of Whitby focused on images to highlight the common items that could be placed in the organic “green” bin, or two stream container and fibre bins. Note that staff used the words “bottles and cans” rather than “containers” to help users more easily understand what recyclable materials should be placed in the recycling bin. The images of a pop can, water bottle and milk carton act as strong visual cues to further indicate what to put in the bin. Staff also used the word “paper” rather than the word “fibres” to encourage greater diversion of paper and paper products. The images of newspapers, magazines, boxboard and paper provide the visual cues as to what papers could be recycled.

The realistic images used on the four signs show items commonly generated in public space settings. The arrows further reinforce where to place the items.

To read more from the report, click here.