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The Art and Science of Sign Design

Posted: May 2, 2017

Signs convey a lot of information. They draw attention, communicate a message, compete with surroundings, and reach a driver traveling sometimes at a high rate of speed.
Source: Sign Research Foundation

Source: Sign Research Foundation

Communities today are trying to attract tourists and hopefully shoppers to visit their communities. Just because a sign looks great doesn’t mean it is accomplishing its purpose. The best signs are those that combine a strong design and graphics with readability and safety for those viewing them.

Unfortunately, sign ordinances adopted by local governments can be extremely complex and even controversial for communities. Business owners need signs to allow their customers to find them. Signs are needed for people to find essential services like hospitals, churches, government buildings and schools. How can a local government have sign ordinances that encourage business activity and please consumers and avoid safety issues?

A report, “Arts and Science of Sign Design,” from the Sign Research Foundation can assist local government officials and planners when they are considering making changes to their municipal sign ordinances.

The report discusses three essential components of effective signage

  1. Location: Signs are viewed in the context of other structures, landscaping, and visual sight lines in the area. The more readable and visible a sign is from a distance, the longer the viewing time and thus the better the sign can make an impression on driver.
  2. Sign Design: Colors and familiar logos and or words, among other factors, are an essential tool to help viewers quickly recognize a business. The contrast between the color of the words and visuals on the sign and the background of the sign affects the readability of the sign.
  3. The Viewer: In 2012, an estimated sixty-six percent (66%) of adults were wearing either glasses or contact lenses. Signs must be positioned within a driver’s relatively narrow cone of vision so that the driver doesn’t have to take his or her eyes off the road to read it.

In addition to considering the elements of maximum visibility and readability, the report highlights the need for safety considerations. Poor or inadequate signage can not only harm a business, it can also be hazardous to drivers.

“The Federal Highway Administration has developed numerous principles to ensure road signs are safe,” the report states. “While the FHWA’s information is aimed at highway signs, the agency includes research that can apply to on-premise signage as well. For instance, the FWHA has determined that 41 percent of accidents occur because of a lack of adequate signage. Further studies have established that the most important consideration in determining the size and placement of a sign is the distance between the sign and the viewer”.

If you would like additional information on signs including the Arts & Science of Sign Design, visit the Sign Research Foundation website and view the research library.

Another source of information on signs is the International Sign Association, which can be accessed at their Newsroom website or contact David Hickey, Vice President, Advocacy at David.Hickey@signs.org

Contact Information

Peter Wulfhorst, AICP
  • Extension Educator, Ag Entrepreneurship & Economic & Community Development Extension Team
Email:
Phone: 570-296-3400