Ontario Signage Guidelines

Page 1

Ontario Signage Guidelines Version 1.0

Published March 2019

Table of Contents 1 - Introduction 1.1 Overview 1.2 Objectives 1.3 Scope 1.4 Elements of the Guideline 2 - Sign Planning 2.1 Overview 2.2 Sign Classifications 2.3 Identification System 2.4 Sign Placement 2.5 Sign Planning Document 3 - Design System 3.1 Overview 3.2 Sign Breakdown 3.3 Message Elements 3.4 Communication 3.5 Colour Specifications 3.6 Layout & Grid System 3.7 Catalogue 4 - Additional Information 4.1 References & Resources 4.2 Sign Planning Document

Introduction 1.1 Overview 1.2 Objectives 1.3 Scope 1.4 Elements of the Guideline


1.1 Overview A strong wayfinding system will ensure that all Ontarians are able to recognize a system working to protect, inform and foster a sense of community for all people regardless of their abilities. A robust wayfinding system is not only essential to transmit information and ensure safe travel, but also show that regardless of an individual’s abilities they are supported in their communities. This coordinated and simple system will enable all regions to have a distinct system that is easy for all people to understand. It fosters the values and goals of the local community, while providing a system that puts ease and understanding at the forefront. Whether it is an exterior sign identifying the entrance to a community park; an accessible washroom sign on each level of a local library; or a directional sign listing the next exit on their local trail, wayfinding and signage is an integral part of an accessible experience. Wayfinding and signage also play an important role in making sure that no matter where someone may find themselves within Ontario, the systems in place can be universally understood.

Finally, the Ontario Signage Guidelines system plays a fundamental role by: • Enabling access to public spaces for all people regardless of ability; • Ensuring that visitors can enjoy and navigate their local spaces in a safe way; and • Ensure that all essential information is given to visitors in a timely and effective way while avoiding any complications by following the set of standards. The Ontario Signage Guidelines is a simple set of standards, that any community large or small can use in order to create an accessible wayfinding system that anyone can easily understand. While some signage and standards are provided for easy use and installation, these guidelines also act as a way to see if current wayfinding systems are accessible to everyone.

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1.2 Objectives The objectives of the Ontario Signage Guidelines is to outline the requirements concerning both interior and exterior signage. The application of these guidelines will strengthen the accessibility of local communities and enhance the experiences that all people can have by focusing an all Ontarians regardless of their ability. The Ontario Signage Guidelines are designed with the following goals in mind: • To enable people—no matter their ability to clearly and instantly be able to navigate a space through a uniform and accessible wayfinding system • To ensure that all signage functions within the context of its environment, whether interior or exterior, and does not detract from the local community • To ensure that all signage is designed in a way that empowers all users, without the need to burden themselves • To reduce the cost of accessible signage by creating a standard of both design and function that considers all limitations These standards are based on research and statistics from a number of Canadian organizations, in order to create a system specific to Ontario’s population.



1.3 Scope These standards and guidelines set out the rules and practices related to accessible signage in Ontario. It provides direction related to planning, designing, installing and updating the signage of a local area. This includes signs installed indoors and outdoors on both government and community-owned spaces, designed for direction, location, information and warning purposes. It is important to understand that these guidelines are not a definitive list of all signage systems and rules. These standards and guidelines do not provide specifications for signs that are prescribed by regulatory authorities, such as traffic signs. For more definitive rules additional research will be required. These guidelines should be used as a base to improve accessibility for community spaces and governmental buildings.

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1.4 Elements of the Guideline The Ontario Signage Guidelines is divided into several sections to facilitate the entire design and creation process—from planning through to installation and maintenance. While certain sections are geared towards specific audiences, it is crucial that all people working with the signage system become familiar with the core concepts in this manual. The following provides a brief overview of each of the sections in this manual and highlights some of the key points. Section 2 — Sign Planning Sign Planning consists of understanding the requirements in creating a wayfinding system. This section includes; Sign Classifications, Identification Systems, Sign Placement and Considerations in creating a signage system. Section 3 — Design System The Design System section consists of understanding the elements that go into creating a sign. This section includes; Message Elements, Communication, Colour Specifications, Layout & Grid System, as well as Sign Structure.


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Sign Planning 2.1 Overview 2.2 Sign Classifications 2.3 Identification System 2.4 Sign Placement

Sign Planning

2.1 Overview This section provides information for creating a wayfinding system. Creating wayfinding systems is a complex task, which requires a significant degree of initial planning and consideration on how users will navigate the space. Sign planning is a means of organizing and defining signs within a wayfinding system that makes it self-navigable. The primary goal of the wayfinding system is to allow users to find the information they need at a glance. Signs within a community should be considered as part of an integrated wayfinding system. All signs are designed to interact with each other in the space, no matter their purpose. Their design, message and placement must all be considered as part of the main system.

Achieving an effective wayfinding system within a local community or space is not always an easy task. The information provided in this section helps to simplify the process and answer key questions in order to provide the best wayfinding system possible for all users. Each area of a wayfinding system must be considered equally in order to create an effective and efficient sign planning process. It is essential that everyone involved in the sign planning process be familiar with not only the Ontario Signage Guidelines but also the area in which is being considered.

In short, the goal of an effective wayfinding system as laid out in the Ontario Signage Guidelines is to convey information that is accessible to everyone, with the least number of signs possible to avoid redundant or confusing information.

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Sign Planning

2.2 Sign Classifications It is imperative that all members of the sign planning team take time to understand all of the sign classification groups, prior to the development of any signage plan. This section describes each sign type and provides information on general usage and function. The sign planning team should be aware of what signs are already created and available for production to avoid any duplication.

The sign categories are organized according to specific use cases and visitor experience, with each type of sign receiving a unique code. There are five main sign categories; Interior, Exterior, Warning, Special Purpose and Regulator. Each category has multiple sign variants possible; however, all follow the same guidelines to keep consistency.

Table 2.1 — Sign Categories

Sign Type

General Function

Interior Signs

This category consists of all signs placed inside of community centres, government buildings and other interior spaces. These signs provide valuable information on room types and mapping.

Exterior Signs

This category consists of all signs placed outside, whether on a community trail, public park or other community spaces. These signs are meant to provide directional information as well as identifying public spaces.

Warning Signs

Warning signs communicate essential safety information to the public. This category of signs consists of Caution signs that identify potential hazards and Danger signs, identifying a definite risk to someone’s safety.

Special Purpose

Special purpose signs are signs that have been created to provide a specific operational need and deviate from one of the rules or guidelines found in this manual. These signs must be approved before being added into the larger catalogue.

Regulatory Signs

Regulatory signs are those specifically required by one or more Canadian institutions. For example, parking signs, emergency exit signs, or other signage mandated by organizations like the NRC building code.


Sign Planning

2.3 Identification System It is essential that every sign has some sort of identification number (Sign ID) so that in the event of a sign being damaged or in need of replacement, it can easily be identified. Creating a Sign ID is one of the most important steps in creating a wayfinding system. This will not only help identify a physical sign, but will also be used to store all signs and information about the system and the specific sign.

Alphanumeric This system is used primarily on exterior signage; it utilizes a 3–4 sequence code depending on the number of signs involved. The components of the code include; • Site Reference Code (ON-TO), this acts as a reference for province and city location • Area Locator (113/B-F), this serves as a reference for location within the city, which code is used depends on the mapping system of each city • Sign Number (0056), this acts as a reference for each sign. Multiple signs may have the same code as long as they are used in the same location • Separator (0A), this optional code acts as a separator in the event two signs are needed in the same location

There are two main identification systems used as part of these guidelines. Alphanumeric; this consists of a sequence of numbers and letters created based on location, mainly used for all exterior signage. General; this consists of utilizing the natural environment, whether it be a room number or specific name.

Figure 2.1 — Sample ID composed of site reference code, area locator, sign number and separator

ON-TO_113_0056_0A Site reference code

Area locator Sign number Separator

Figure 2.2 — Sample ID composed of site reference code, area locator and sign number

ON-TO_B-F_0027 Site reference code

Area locator

Sign number

Figure 2.3 — Sample ID composed of multiple signs on top of each other

Main Sign


Additional Sign


Additional Sign


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Sign Planning

2.3 Identification System (cont) General This system is used primarily on interior signage; it utilizes the surrounding area to reduce the length of the code. This components of the code may be; • Room number, this sign uses the room number/sequence that has previously been assigned to it • Room name, this sign uses the specific name attached to a room. This should only be used when a room is commonly known by a particular name • Room type and number; this sign uses a room type with the option of adding a unique number. This should only be used when the space does not have a specific room name or number assigned, (ex. an open office space).


Figure 2.4 — Sample ID of room number and location

3E24 Room number

Figure 2.5 — Sample ID off room name

Conference Room Room name

Figure 2.6 — Sample ID off room type and number

Office 023 Room type


Sign Planning

2.4 Sign Placement Sign Placement is a lot more than just how a sign is attached. It has to do with a number of factors that all work together to make sure that everyone regardless of ability can use and understand each sign. It is essential that all of these factors are considered and added as a note in the Sign Planning document. The main sections include; • Height of signage • Signage placement • Attachment method

Height of Signage

Signage Placement

Signage height is a significant factor to consider when creating accessible signage. Interior and exterior signage has slightly different requirements for height.

Signage placement is a small part of creating a signage system that affects interior signs. These rules act as a guide, which can be updated based on the specific building.

• Interior signage should be placed between 1400–1600mm from the ground; a good measurement to use is 1450mm. This allows for users in wheelchairs easy access to the sign, while also maintaining a good height for those who are able to stand.

• If the door is generally left open, place all signs either on the wall, either latch or hinge-side and keep it consistent. • If the door is generally left closed, place the sign directly on the door itself.

• Exterior signage should attempt to follow the same height 1400–1600mm; however, depending on the situation may be placed higher or lower.

• Place all signs at a consistent height throughout the building or space.

When a building or space is mainly used by children, consider lowering the signage height to between 900–1200mm. This will ensure that they can become accustomed to the signage through exploration and use, while also identifying the space for adults.

These are some basic guidelines to follow when placing signage around a building; they may be changed based on special cases, but should be followed as much as possible.

• Make sure signs are as close to the object they are identifying as possible.

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Sign Planning

2.4 Sign Placement (cont) Attachment Method The attachment method is the last step in making sure that sign planning is successful. Interior and exterior signs require different attachment methods and using the correct one makes sure that the sign will last. It is important that along with identifying how a sign will be attached, how many bolts may be required and what type will be needed for the space.

Figure 2.7 — Sample of Exterior signage fastening

Bolts placed at the edge of the sign to avoid interfering with the information displayed on the sign

Exterior signs These signs should be bolted directly to its backing, whether it be a building or post. Depending on the size, a sign will either be attached with 2 or 4 bolts. Interior signs Signs on walls or doors should be attached with glue as to remove any additional tactile elements. If a sign must be bolted or fastened, it should only be directly in the corners of the sign.


Figure 2.8 — Sample of Interior signage fastening

Bolts attached in the corners to avoid interfering with any raised elements on the sign

Sign Planning

2.5 Sign Planning Document The Sign Planning Document is the file that will be used to keep and store all information from the sign planning process and act as a guide for future review and updating of the signage system. The Sign Planning Document can be found at the same location as this guideline and is available as an editable Word document and attached to the end of this document

This document should be reviewed yearly to make sure that all signage is up to date and is still required. In the event that a sign needs to be updated, it is important that all changes be listed on the proper document, and add a note about when the sign has been updated for maintenance purposes.

This document will store information like what type of sign will be used, where it will be located, the Sign ID code, how it will be fastened and any additional information required for the creation of the sign.

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Design System 3.1 Overview 3.2 Sign Breakdown 3.3 Message Elements 3.4 Communication 3.5 Colour Specifications 3.6 Layout & Grid System 3.7 Catalogue

Design System

3.1 Overview This section provides information for designing a wayfinding system. Designing a wayfinding system or even a sign is a complicated task involving a number of factors. In this section, the principles of the design system are laid out and the process of how they apply to the message elements—arrows, typography, iconography, braille and distance—along with the sign border and the colour palette.

It is important to follow along with all of the information in the sign planning document when designing a sign or wayfinding system. The sign planning document will include all necessary information, like the Sign ID, iconography and copy to be included on the sign. This process reduces the workload of the designer and simplifies the process of creating a new signage system.

These elements work together to create the backbone of the wayfinding system. Each sign should take into consideration its purpose, intended message and location in order to create the perfect sign.

This section also provides a catalogue of the available signs and assets for use in creating the wayfinding system.

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Design System


Sign Breakdown

Figure 3.1 — Example of exterior signage components

Rounded Corners

Park Name

Location Identifi er Directional Arrow Accessibility / Activity Icons


City Branding / Sign ID

Figure 3.2 — Example of interior signage components

Rounded Corners Border Colour Room-Specifi c Icon

Universal Washroom 2C30


Location Identifi er Braile Location Identifi er Sign ID

Design System

3.3 Message Elements Message elements consist of the physical information on each sign. The elements break down into three key sections: Typography, Iconography and Braille.

Although there are three key sections, there are also two additional elements that help to make signs even more accessible to people. These sections are; Sign Shape and Colour.

These sections have been created to ensure that every sign is accessible to all people regardless of ability.

Sign Shape

Typography The typeface used in creating signage is Helvetica Neue. This typeface is clean and simple allowing for easy readability for any user. Any sign created should be at least 36pt for users reading the sign from a distance. The smallest allowable size for Helvetica Neue is 12pt; this size should only be used in very special circumstances. For more information on typography, consult section 3.4.1. Iconography Icons are included on every sign to communicate relevant information that may be missed by those who do not have an understanding of English or French. Icons are also added so that information is displayed in at least two ways so that in an emergency, important information can be communicated at a glance. For more information on iconography, consult section 3.4.2.

The signs in this guideline are designed to be accessible to all people. To add to their ease of use, all signs are designed to have as little blank space as possible to focus the viewer on what is important. In addition, all signs include rounded corners to act as a physical element so people can sense the sign position. Colour A set of seven colours have been selected for all major design elements in the system. Colour options are black, gray, white, red, blue, orange and yellow. These have been selected to allow for ease of use, and have been tested for those who are visually impaired.

Braille Braille is used on all indoor signage to allow users with visual impairments to use and understand the message, which is being conveyed to them. For more information on Braille, consult section 3.4.3.

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Design System

3.4 Communication Section 3.4.1 — Typography

Helvetica neue has been chosen as the typeface for all of the Ontario Signage Guidelines to better align with Canada’s federal branding, and allow for universal use across all of Ontario’s many towns and cities. This typeface acts as the backbone of the entire communication system, pulling together the iconography and Braille into a seamless system. To make sure the system works correctly it is important to use normal case when writing all prominent information, as the variation in letter height allows for easier reading. Uppercase should only be used for Sign ID’s, or in extremely special cases.

Interior Signage Rules On all interior signs, the copy is to be raised between 0.6mm–0.9mm from the sign background, consistent with the distance of the icons and braille. This includes all copy on the sign, even Sign ID’s. Exterior Signage Rules On all exterior signs, only the main copy is to be raised between 0.6–0.9mm from the sign background, consistent with the distance of the icons and braille. Sign ID’s and city logos should not be raised.

Figure 3.3 — Helvetica Neue as used for the Ontario Signage Guidelines

ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz 1234567890 . , : ; “ ” « » ? ! / ( ) $

Figure 3.4 — 50/1000 of an em tracking vs no tracking

Sign Name on one line 50/1000 of an em tracking

Sign Name on one line No tracking


It is important to consider how far the viewer will be from the sign when attempting to understand it. Increasing the tracking to 50/1000 of an em will increase readability from a distance for the viewer.

Design System


Communication (cont)

Section 3.4.2 — Iconography

Section 3.4.3 — Braille

Icons used as part of the guidelines are created by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). These symbols are created to follow the global standard of symbols used in signage. The National Standard of Canada “Signs and Symbols for the Workplace” are also a good reference if the ISO set is unavailable, or does not have a specifi c symbol needed.

Braille acts as another way for those who have a visual impairment to understand the information that is being communicated to them, while also adding to the overall experience of an accessible space.

A special set of directional arrows has also been created alongside other symbols; these arrows are designed to work seamlessly with the standard grid system for signage.

Unlike typography or iconography, Braille is only included on interior signs, or signs attached to a building, like outdoor washrooms or lockers. This is done as the majority of outdoor signs will be subject to the elements.

All icons, whether interior or exterior, must be raised above the background of the sign for those who are visually impaired. The information must be raised between 0.6mm–0.9mm.

All Braille should be at least 9.5mm below the text it is representing, avoid placing to much space between the text and Braille to make sure that the intended message is conveyed. The standard Braille system in Canada is “Unifi ed English Braille.” For more information, please visit Braille Literacy Canada.

Figure 3.5 — Sample Iconography

Figure 3.7 — Braille on Signage

Figure 3.6 — Sample Arrows

Universal Washroom

Accessible Washroom



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Design System

3.5 Colour Specifications


PMS: Process Black C



PMS: P 179-10 C

OSG_Warning (Red) PMS: P 48-8 C


PMS: Process Cyan CP

OSG_Orange PMS: 138 CP

These colours are designed to be the main set used for all signage across the system. OSG_ Black, Grey and White act as the core colours of the system, providing perfect colours for text, icons and backgrounds. OSG_Blue, Orange and Yellow, act as colours that can be used as backgrounds for signage to bring more energy to the system. OSG_Warning (Red) is used for warning and danger signs; OSG_Yellow can also be used for caution signs.



PMS: Process Yellow CP

It is important to consider what each sign is supposed to tell the viewer when selecting colours. When creating interior signage, it is best to use a white background with black text while leaving colour to the border. For exterior signage, consider a full black or colour background with white text for high contrast. OSG_Warning should only be used on signs indicating a warning or danger to the viewer to avoid confusion.

Design System

3.6 Layout & Grid System The layout & grid system of the Ontario Signage Guidelines has been designed to create an easy to use and versatile system that can be applied to any situation. There are two main components to the grid system that can be used together or separately to create the best sign possible; the X-Grid and the Golden Ratio. The X-Grid is the easiest to use and will be the primary system for most signs you create. This grid can be scaled to any size allowing for all signs to feel like they are a part of the same network. The grid system allows you to focus on the space between content and from the edges rather than focusing on a connection between elements. As shown in Figure 3.8, even space is kept between specific elements to keep content looking connected, while giving each piece space to breath for the viewer.

Figure 3.8 — Sample of the X-Grid system

The Golden Ratio system is used mainly for signs that only need to be created once and will be used multiple times, meaning that the grid structure can be more detailed. The Golden Ratio grid, as shown in Figure 3.9 is used on a general accessible washroom sign. The Golden Ratio divides the sign into different size sections allowing you to put the focus on different elements. As shown in Figure 3.9, the largest space is taken up by the accessible icon, followed by text and then braille. Using the X-Grid in tandem with the Golden Ratio is possible, and can lead to more variety in sign design. When using the two systems together, it is important to focus on the X-Grid as the base for all layout decisions and use the Golden Ratio as an additional element for more creative sections. The focus should always be on ease of use and layout over unique systems.

Figure 3.9 — Sample of the Golden Ratio grid system

Park Name Accessible Washroom ON-TO_113_0056_0A


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Design System

3.7 Catalogue Figure 3.10 — Arrow Variation 1

Figure 3.12 — Iconography Set


Figure 3.11 — Arrow Variation 2

Design System

3.7 Catalogue (cont) Figure 3.13 — Washroom Signs Variation 1

Figure 3.13 — Washroom Signs Variation 2

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Additional Information 4.1 References & Resources 4.2 Sign Planning Document

Additional Information

4.1 References & Resources Pages 12–13 Parks Canada. (2007). Identity Program: Exterior Signage Standards and Guidelines. From, https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/docs/ bib-lib/~/media/docs/bib-lib/.../Exterior_ Signage.ashx Pages: 15, 22–23 Braille Literacy Canada. (2016). Accessible Signage Guidelines. From, http://www. brailleliteracycanada.ca/CMFiles/ Accessible_Signage_Guidelines_BLCPrintFormatted.pdf Introduction to ISO Symbols International Organization for Standardization. (2013). The international language of ISO graphical symbols. From, https://www.iso. org/files/live/sites/isoorg/files/archive/pdf/ en/graphical-symbols_booklet.pdf RGD Accessible design handbook RGD. (2010). AccessAbility: A practical handbook on accessible graphic design. From, https://www.rgd.ca/database/files/ library/RGD_AccessAbility_Handbook.pdf

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Additional Information

4.2 Sign Planning Document

Sign Name

Sign Purpose

Attachment Method

Sign ID / Location

Attachment Method

Sign ID / Location

Sign Information & Iconography

Additional Comments

Sign Name

Sign Purpose

Sign Information & Iconography

Additional Comments


Additional Information

4.2 Sign Planning Document (cont)

Sign Name

Sign Purpose

Attachment Method

Sign ID / Location

Attachment Method

Sign ID / Location

Sign Information & Iconography

Additional Comments

Sign Name

Sign Purpose

Sign Information & Iconography

Additional Comments

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