You Can Learn a Lot from Garage Sale Signs

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Usability, Web Design

You Can Learn a Lot from Garage Sale Signs

garage sales signs
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Every weekend, there's one constant as I drive around town... garage sale signs. I shouldn't care much about them as I rarely find interest in going, but when I see a sign written with a dinky ballpoint pen on cardboard in small text, I cry on the inside. And so, I want to go over a few things that garage sale signs teach us about the importance of design basics.

Your Audience

Let's assume this is a one-person garage sale shopper. This person is:

  • Responsible for driving safely around others (hopefully)
  • Driving fast (within the means of the speed limit, hopefully)
  • Has a very small window of time to locate, analyze, and process the information seen on your sign (while staying on the road... hopefully)
  • Really interested in making it to your garage sale ASAP
Your sign is this shopper's only hope.

This person has nobody else helping figure out where the garage sale is located. Your sign needs to convey a lot of information in less than a second. Your purpose and the shopper's needs should align to ideally benefit both parties. How can we do that?


The content should have purpose and intent. Think back to your audience's needs. They're driving fast and have a very small amount of time to process information. In the case of garage signs, they need pertinent information such as:

  • Am I following a garage sale sign?
  • Where should I turn next?
  • When is this sale happening?

In the case of following a garage sale sign, there needs to be...


Because as more and more signs appear, it's important the driver continues to say "yes" to:

  • Am I following the signs for the same garage sale?

Keeping the same colors, font, location of content, and wording for all signs will help. But consistency will only get us so far if the driver can't read your sign.

Contrast and Text Size


Where readability is concerned, contrast is the PB to text size's J.

The dinky ballpoint pen should be substituted for a thick, fat Sharpie®. Big, bold letters. While street signs are pretty stale, there are very rare occasions where I can't process the street sign. Take a cue from standard street signs for your garage sale sign. Big text improves readability.

In addition, when looking at materials for your sign, consider a white or highlighter yellow/pink background rather than a cardboard box. Brown on black is going to be harder to read than a white sign with black writing. This is coming down to contrast. Higher contrasts make text more readable, therefore making it easier for drivers to read your sign. My personal favorite signs have highlighter pink with black text. It's eye-catching and good on contrast.

Outside the Box

There's one item that always grabs my attention and if I could give out points for effort, I would.


Balloons have been a fantastic way to grab my attention and immediately process that I am following the same garage sale signs. There's the occasional blockage of information; however, they are so effective that I can overlook some of their weakness in displaying information easily.

...did you seriously talk about garage sale signs this long?

Yes. Yes I did.

Because good design exists everywhere, even in these weekend signs we encounter. Maybe we ignore them most days, but when we have a goal to find a great deal at a garage sale, these signs matter. Hopefully, the next time you are working on a project, consider the basics of design.

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Nicole Conary

User Experience Design Engineer

Nicole has a lifelong love of technology and is always looking for ways to make products easier to use. With degrees in English (Cal Poly, SLO) and Computer Science (CSUCI), she got her start in Marketing at OmniUpdate and has since found her niche on the Development team as a User Experience Design Engineer. As a Ventura County, California native, Nicole enjoys being with family and friends, playing video games, rooting for the LA Kings (Go Kings Go!), plotting ways to own a Tesla, and a good glass of wine.

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