Design Fundamentals: Designing Effective Signs
From storefronts and bus stops to foyers and restaurants, signs are everywhere. And when they’re done right, signs can serve as powerful promotional, branding, and marketing tools.
But what’s in a sign, and how can we utilise them in the most effective, persuasive, and powerful way? Well, that’s exactly what we’re here to talk about. So keep reading for some top tips on the fundamental and indispensable skill of good sign design.
With signs in particular, colour can be used to great advantage in helping to accentuate key points of your message. There’s a science to colour in design, and each colour has its own unique set of properties when it comes to brand communication.
Firstly, consider how loud the sign needs to be. How many other signs will it be competing with in the immediate area? How large and prominent should it be in order to stand out? The pallet you decide on will have a huge impact on these factors.
Another point to bear in mind is where your sign will be located. If it will remain in a fixed location, consider using colours that contrast with the environment in a subtle yet effective way. Equally, if your sign will be moved from place to place, it can be a good idea to opt for a more subtle palette that blends with multiple environments.
According to Sapna Budev, director of strategic initiatives for the International Sign Association, “studies have shown that 80 percent of the recognition of a trademark is due to its [colour].” This is a point also worth considering. If your brand is already strongly associated with a certain set of colours, be sure to incorporate them into your sign for enhanced recognition.
Legibility is always important. But with signage it’s essential. Large signs, especially billboards, are often encountered very briefly. People are either driving or walking past them, and very few will actually stop to study them in detail.
The legibility of your sign will mostly be determined by two factors: the copy and the colour. A strong contrast between your text and graphics is possibly the most important point. It will ensure that your text isn’t consumed by your graphics and, as a result, won’t require too much work to decipher.
The actual length of your text also affects its legibility, though in a more subtle way. Even with the most stark contrast, your copy will be effectively illegible if there’s too much of it to read.
It can be tempting to focus all of our design attention on the aesthetics of a sign. But ultimately it’s the information conveyed that determines whether or not your sign will be a success.
The best approach is to keep it simple wherever possible. If it can be said in five words, use five words. Signage is all about brevity. Using graphics and copy side by side to communicate a message-in-brief is the ultimate goal of most signs.
One approach is to experiment in shaving down your message to its barest form and seeing if it’s still understandable. In a nutshell, the point at which every word is essential to the legibility of the core message is the point to aim for.
Location, location, location
Most of the time signs act as visual markers for physical spaces. They can indicate store locations, rooms, and directions to areas within larger business complexes. So when it comes to successful signage, location plays a huge role.
Thinking about the where the sign is physically situated also helps
But it’s not just the actual location that counts, rather it’s the context necessitated by the location. In other words, where will your sign be, and what sort of sign will that location require?
The questions to ask are: In what physical context will the sign be placed? What’s the focus of the space itself? What ultimate purpose will the signage serve?
Thinking about the location early on in the design process may also influence its final aesthetic. It can be really helpful to actually go and see where your sign will be placed. You might be inspired by some of the existing design elements of the space.
Be consistent with your design
It’s easy to forget that signs are as much a part of branding as business cards and websites. So it’s important that they remain aligned with the overall aesthetic of your business.
One simple and effective way to ensure that your signs accurately represent your brand is to make sure that the person designing them is the same person who designed your logo.
This is an important point to consider, because specialist signage companies, though good at building signs, won’t necessarily understand your brand. Tone of voice, colour schemes, and imagery all need to remain consistent. You need to be certain that whatever your sign looks like, it looks like it belongs to you.
Engaging with a designer who understands you and your business will guarantee the proper treatment of your brand, regardless of the form it takes. This will maximise its impact in a large physical format.
Take care of the details
All too often a business will use hand-written ‘No Entry’ and ‘Out of Order’ signs, despite going to great lengths to create a consistent and professional visual tone throughout the rest of their building. But this can seriously undermine the visual standards of a professional environment.
By neglecting even the simplest of signs we risk projecting a DIY aesthetic, and often not in a positive way. Hand-written signs can evoke a sense of carelessness and indicate a lack of attention to detail. And though it may seem like splitting hairs, Emily Dickinson summed it up best when she said, “take care of the small things, and the big things take care of themselves.”
So it’s always worth remembering that good signs shouldn’t be limited to storefronts and exhibition stands. Instead we should think: wherever a sign is needed, so is good design.
A sign apart
Considering using signage for an upcoming project? Get in touch to see how Red Square can help you own your space!
Or, for more content on signage, why not take a look at our post on the merits of using large format graphics.