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Sign Design Basics

In an era of endless digital content and fine-targeted ads, eye-catching and memorable signs are critical for business looking to stand out. The stiff competition for consumer attention turns signage into more than just blocks of text hanging over your store’s entrance, or slogans wrapped around your fleet of vehicles.


Last December, retailers in the UK saw the biggest drop in footfall for Black Friday since 2009, while sales from e-commerce soared. Clearly, customers are signing in to shop more than they’re ringing into stores. And their attention has become a scarce resource. According to a study from Microsoft in 2016, the average person has an attention span of only 8 seconds, down from 12 in 2000.


Signs are more powerful than some businesses may think. Outdoor signs can be better than word of mouth in raising awareness. Some 68 per cent of customers judge a business’ quality by their signs. A badly made sign can put off half of customers from entering a shop, or drive them right into your business. Best Buy discovered that about 17 per cent of its customers were people who did not intend to stop there but did so specifically because they saw the sign,” shares Sapna Budev of the International Sign Association.
Here are the most important design basics you need to keep in mind to ensure you’re not missing opportunities to engage your customers.


Keep Signs Short and Precise

Attention is a premium currency. A good way to stay concise but clear is to share your message in no more than 5 seconds. The limit ensures that you’re only allocating precious time for information related to your purpose. If your sign’s main purpose is to alert customers that your business is located here, then the phone number really doesn’t need to prominent at all.
Longer messages are better broken down even more or expanded to a series of signs instead of crammed into one.

Colour and Font: More than meets the eye
Every element in a sign is a vessel for your brand identity. Let’s look at two of the biggest design components that separate great signs from incomprehensible noise: Colour and Type Font.

Colour
Choosing the right colours for your signs is more than just ensuring they don’t clash. Years worth of research in colour psychology have proven that they affect how we feel, think--even how food tastes! The colours you choose should match your brand’s identity or the purpose of the sign. Below is a breakdown of common colours and the feelings associated with them:
  • Red: Feelings of urgency, often used in sales, call-to-action buttons, and to stimulate the appetite.
  • Yellow: Invokes feelings of happiness and warmth. Used to encourage communication and capture attention.
  • Blue: Non-invasive and trustworthy. Commonly used in corporate settings, but less in restaurants because it suppresses appetite.
  • Orange: Encourages impulse purchases. Like yellow, exudes friendliness and confidence.
  • Green: A relaxing colour that signifies authenticity, health, and power. Some shades can lift sadness.
  • Purple: Represents creativity, luxury, and royalty. Usually used by brands in the beauty industry.
Whether the purpose of your sign is to be serious or whimsical, choose high-contrast colours. A colour wheel’s worth of emotional cues can’t help a sign with poor visibility.

Font
Your font says a lot more than the message they spell out. “Type choice is critical. A brand’s typography is as important as any other element associated with an identity. In many cases, it’s the vessel for that brand voice,” says Josh Baron, art director at brand management agency Sparxoo.

You need to choose a font that aligns with your brand identity. Here’s a quick guide to the 3 types of fonts and the emotions they evoke from marketing agency Hubspot:
  • Serif: Formal, antiquity, vintage, old, expensive
  • Sans Serif: Cool, modern, hip, young, rugged
  • Script: Feminine, beautiful, relaxed, happy, delicate
Brand voice aside, the first hard and fast rule is your sign should be legible. In the world of visual messaging, customers can’t hear what they can’t read. Some easy ways to make sure signs are legible are not using two or three fonts at once, not spacing words too close or far apart, and using all caps sparingly.

Know the Rules, but don’t be Afraid to Break Them
The basics will guide you through making a sign that’s not horrible. But don’t be afraid to experiment. Some businesses make bold design decisions to stand out from the competition.For instance, dairy brand Rachel’s Organic Butter made its product more memorable by choosing black packaging material in an industry that typically uses green and yellow to symbolize freshness.Tate, one of the UK’s biggest art galleries, uses a blurry logo that might be unreadable to those unfamiliar with the gallery’s old logos, which keeps with the “challenges and boldness of contemporary art”.Delivering your message effectively and efficiently across the noise of busy commutes and never-ending smartphone notifications can be difficult. But you don’t need cluttered or garish signs to be heard. The most powerful and memorable messages are short and clear, supported by appropriate colours and legible, high-contrast fonts.
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