Minimum viable signboards

Both refueling and printing/copying are fairly commoditized services in Hanoi, offering fairly similar products and services as their nearby competitors. Rather than seek to distinguish their offering or brand, these businesses chose to take the opposite approach, one of a “minimum viable signboard” to advertise their offerings in plain sight of the city’s many scooter drivers.

Print and copy shop sign / Hanoi, Vietnam

Above is a signboard for a printing and copying shop, as seen suspended from a tree out in front. Inside the shop, similar to one encountered on the streets of Yangon, one will find a small family of professional-grade copy machine/printers humming busily away – along with lots of boxes of paper.


Above is a similarly pared-down signboard for a streetside refueling point, performing the dual role of notifying drivers that there is fuel for sale, and acting as the actual means of selling the fuel itself. In this case, since the majority of vehicles needing stopping here will be motorbikes, the refueling process consists of simply pouring the fuel shown here through a hose and into the waiting bike’s fuel tank.

How would these minimum viable signboards be interpreted in your context? Would they extend beyond “minimal” and into the realm of “not understood?” How would you interpret the top of a box of A4 paper hung from a tree? Are there other stronger or weaker signals you’d be searching for that implied “printing happens here” if you were in need of such a service? American gas stations tend to come with their own distinct, large-format, illuminated signboards, and I as an American have been trained to look for such visual signals when there’s the need to refuel. How would you interpret this placement of a bottle on a stool if you saw it – beverages for sale? Or that the occupant of this seat (and owner of this bottle of red liquid) will soon be back? Notably, Myanmar also uses soda bottles to advertise refueling points – including a hack for making these informal signs visible at night – see below.


After dark fuel advertising / Mandalay, Myanmar
Thinking about visual metaphors as applied to digital product design, what might the implications for this be when it comes to how people interact with your offering? Consider something like how an icon is designed for a given function. For the physical world, consider: is there a similarly tactile, physical object you could place in front of your place of employment that would immediately convey what it was you did?


Speaking of America, one final example of a minimum viable signboard for a crucial streetside service comes from walking around Brooklyn (and not to be confused as the signboard for the hip taco joint over the bridge in Union Square, Manhattan).

See also how services are advertised in roadside Tibet, how drivers can identify flat-fixing services in Myanmar, and improvised signage for highway-adjacent services in Jordan.

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