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It’s a beautiful sign but what does it say?

Great design is key when it comes to signage. There needs to be a good balance of artistic talent and technical functionality. Do you ever look at a colourful, overcrowded, confusing sign and wonder “what does it say?” The use of graduated backgrounds, multiple colours, too many words and poor planning makes a sign difficult to read and renders it useless. It is best to keep it simple and as universal as possible. Here is a checklist that can be kept close at the design computer to remind you and your staff what needs to be remembered initial first steps when putting together the design of the century.

Size – This is always the first question for your client. Once this is established, now you have a reference for the perimeters to design within. However, you need to advise your client if the size is too small or big for the viewing distance & angle as well as the speed at which the passerby will be seeing it.

Content - Less is more. Be as brief and to the point as possible. Back in the day, I was taught the 5-line rule. A sign with over that was never allowed by wise sign painters. I thought it was because hand painting leads to hand cramps after a few hours of lettering. However, it is true. Our attention spans have been reduced by the 20,000 messages bombarded at us and the sign you are designing needs to speak louder and clearer to get noticed.

Is your client asking for extensive copy? Suggest a QR code or website address to direct the user to read this further information.

Fonts & Colours – Yes, your client will likely have branding guidelines, however, it is your job to educate them to achieve optimum results. There are many competing factors in the environment and colours will be key to assure legibility from a distance and for those with visual impairments. This is the same when it comes to the fonts. No fancy italics or script styles for informative copy such as a phone number. Will you lose this battle with a stubborn client who loves their brand when viewing it on their website – yeah, maybe. I know I have.

Spacing – This is the biggest error I notice on a poorly designed sign, especially on channel letters or signs that are viewed at an extreme angle. It is so important to let your lettering breathe. Give adequate space between letters, words, lines and most importantly the edges. Yes, it is important to maximize the size of lettering but not at the expense of the overall design. The addition of negative space will make a world of difference to your signage.

If in doubt after the sign’s preliminary design, create a digital print, bring it to the site and place it into the planned position, stand back and view it. Can’t do that – then get up off your computer chair, walk back 5 – 10’ and squint. If it’s difficult to read, then it is back to the drawing board despite how beautiful it looks on a computer screen.

Are there more factors to consider when designing? Of course. These initial principles will get the ideas on paper and the conversation going with your client. As Nat Turner once said, good communication is the bridge between confusion and clarity. It is the job of a sign to bring clarity to every moment of every day.

The article was also posted in April's edition of Signs of the Times Magazine

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