Signifiers are indicators of any type that communicate the action needed so the affordance (how it works and what it does) can take place, and it’s a term that’s widely used in the field of semiotics.
"Semiotics - the study of signs and symbols and their use or interpretation." Wikipedia
Every day examples of Signifiers...
- "Push and Pull" Door Signs
- "This Way Up" on boxes
- "Slide To Open" on phones
- "Drag Here" to drag and drop
- "Click and Tap Here" on interface buttons
These Signifiers tell us how to use it and if we didn't have these we would not know what to do with it and get frustrated with the experience.
Ever walked up to a door and couldn't work out how to get through it? Ever tried to open a box the right way up when there is nothing written on it? Ever wondered why slide to open on phones has an arrow? Where do you drag and drop something if you have no signs? How do you know what a button will do if you press it?
Signifiers are an important part of an experience and are there for a reason but not everyone uses them effectively.
Hopefully with more awareness of UX our everyday experiences will improve but some experiences are deep rooted and may never be fixed.
Try to walk through a door that has no signifiers and think about how it feels!