The Hidden Meaning Behind Handwritten Signs

Handwritten Signs

Handwritten signs are a bad sign.

A crumpled, often illegible admission that something is wrong.

Department, peer or vendor, a mistake was made and the band-aid is a hastily posted sign.

And rather than fix it, you ask the customer to work harder.

Sure, not all signs are bad — nor are they all handwritten (comic sans joke goes here) — but most of them share an origin of confusion.

Signals from Signs

Two examples, two different types of handwritten signs — both signals of an underlying issue.

Standing in line at the local movie theater on a rainy Sunday afternoon, I spotted the significantly shorter line at the ticket kiosk. I say spotted, because the kiosk was shoved into a corner behind a closed ticket window.

Evaluating the line of 25-30 people in front me, my family waiting inside the lobby and the 2 other people who had also discovered the kiosk, I made the switch.

Tapping a gift card on my leg I noticed a laminated, back-office printed sign dangling from the bottom of the touch screen. Unfortunately the type was so small, I could not make it out until I was reaching to make a selection.

SORRY – gift cards are not accepted at this kiosk.

Please see the ticket booth.


A personal example, but I am confident you are thinking of a similar scenario.

One other example from a recent client.

Judy (not her name), managed the customer relationship management program for a rather large destination marketing organization.

We had conducted a phone interview with Judy during the initial research phase, asking her quite a few questions about her work, the program and challenges that she was encountering.

But it was not until we saw Judy’s office that we truly understood the process she was describing (and minimizing).


Ringing her computer like a string of Tibetan prayer flags were 37 Post-it notes (we counted), each with a work-around, shortcut or reminder of a former hack to circumvent the CRM program.

Some looked like they had been on there for years. In fact, Judy later admitted to moving the Post-it’s from an old monitor to this new one.

Which was installed in 2012.

Signs between Silos

Signs often appear when a process is poorly conceived and implemented, typically through a combination of departments, vendors and employees.

The experience was not considered from the customer point-of-view and therefore a service gap is created.

This gap is causing an issue for the customer and therefore a sign is required to redirect the action.

Take our movie theater kiosk example.

This was not a small, independent chain, but rather one of the big box brands. And while we are not privy to the project management aspects of the kiosk strategy, one could easily see how my experience could be controlled by 3 different departments / vendors: gift cards, kiosk and ticketing.

Same for our CRM example, but with an additional layer of actors.

Internal software company silos, plus external client behaviors equal an unknown issue in terms of the customer (Judy) experience.

In both examples, the lifespan (old Post-its) and sturdiness (the laminated paper) of the sign can be directly correlated to the scale of the internal communication issue.

Which is the hidden meaning behind handwritten signs.

Internal departments not communicating and considering the experience from the customer perspective.

I notice these underlying communication issues constantly.

And now, you will too.

Next time you walk through your hotel, buy tickets at a movie theater or look up at your monitor, consider the handwritten sign.

Why is it there?

What can we do to improve communication?

And how do we get this old laminated sign out of the customer’s experience?

Comment? @travel2dot0 or email.