I’ve turned into a fan and critic of signage. The things you learn owning a print/marketing company.

Last summer, I got the chance to chaperone 8th graders from Evergreen Junior High in Redmond to New York and DC, and decided it would be interesting to capture pics and study signs in one of the busiest, most promotional driven markets in the world – the Big Apple!

Those New York sign photos are on our Facebook page. If New York is the largest sign ‘forest’ in the world, its super interesting to sit back and look at individual trees and the bigger context. Check out the photo collection, I’ll be interested in seeing your comments.

Since we do several signage projects per week, I decided to write about the key points that keep coming up and hopefully you can get some value from them.

Signage can have a GIANT return on investment as far as eyeballs are concerned. Or be a GIANT waste of time and money.

Great signage stands out and communicates a message clearly.

Bad signage…well there are so many examples, just drive down the street for a few miles and take notice.

Lets focus on signage that’s designed and deployed by small businesses, nonprofits, community groups & schools who don’t have multimillion dollar agencies to help them.

Bad signage mainly comes from a faulty design process in either or both of 2 areas:

  1. Design is being done by a nonprofessional without the right tools and experience.
  2. Design happens in a vacuum, frequently in a small room on a monitor.

The result is that the owner of the sign ends up with a wasted product and hundreds or thousands of missed eyeball connections every day.

I don’t want to diminish the complexity here, designing great signage is hard and we make mistakes on our stuff too.

If you’re going to invest in signs, start with these 2 questions:
1) Who is your audience, what’s their engagement with the signage going to be like and what do you want them to do?

Simple as the question sounds, many signs are missing key bits including contact information. Parking signs that are missing arrows and logos. Grand opening signs that are missing eye catching elements. Retail business vinyl window stickers that are missing hours of operation or website information.

2) Where are your signs located? Distance is a critical factor as is the amount of time that someone can see it. Surroundings are critical too. Is there foliage? How’s the light? Is the area visually ‘busy’?

Design without context can result in A boards that are text heavy flyers, banners that can’t be read from 350 feet away, fixed mount exterior signs that hide in the bushes, sports team recruiting signs that are a blur to drivers going 30 mph.

To design effective signs that fit into a context, this is where I like to think about the 3/30/300 feet concept.

Our retail space gives us an advantage with sign design. We use the view from our windows to educate customers about signage, and we can have a real time discussion about creating something that makes sense from 3 feet (retail), 30 feet (driving slowly or walking by) or 300 feet away (busy street, baseball field banner). The number of words for a sign might be inversely proportional to the distance too. If you’re designing a banner for viewing 300+ feet away, you get a logo and about 3 words.

We also like the 2/3 & 1/3 rule for design, here’s a reference article (http://www.rajeshbihani.com/raj/468/). Font type and size is a big deal, and once we know what your concept is we can help with font guidance/testing. Lastly, color selection, light on dark would be my default recommendation, especially for outdoors.

Finally, if you’ve got a great design, don’t torpedo the project by putting it (printed or otherwise) on the wrong medium or going cheap on the installation. Budgets are real, but so is bad advice. Get professional help to look at your best few options for the project, regardless of how seemingly small your needs are. Even for a PTSA, can you really afford to have handwritten marker on poster paper getting soaked in the rain for an evening event?

Other project mistakes include vinyl graphics that can’t be seen clearly or are peeling off, banners shredding due to material or finishing mistakes, signs tipping over constantly, wood rotting.

Most importantly for commercial areas – make sure you know the regulations of the neighborhood including materials, mounting, lighting and temporary vs permanent duration. We keep a copy of the City of Redmond and Redmond Town Center regulations close by.

I want to invite you into our Retail studio to brainstorm on your next signage project. Bring your designer if you have one. We can do the design if you don’t have one.

We are setup to make the process easy for you with samples to touch and feel, tools to help visualize, research and educate, and creative options to help you build professional custom signage that fits your goals and budget.

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