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Ways to create effective signage by Innes Donaldson

Ways to create effective signage by
Article Posted: 06/27/2013
Article Views: 129
Articles Written: 2885
Word Count: 918
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Ways to create effective signage

Not everybody is a graphic designer... but that doesn't mean you can use that as an excuse for creating a below average sign for your business or special event. Here are five easy-to-follow tips to ensure your sign stands out and gets noticed.


Most people think that they have to provide as much information as possible on their signs - but doing so will actually detract from the sign's ability to get noticed. It's difficult to read a sign that's too "busy", as it's very hard to pick out which pieces of information are truly important. Your message has to be concise and to the point - it will be much more powerful if it's limited to just a few words or bullet points.

Ask yourself: What is the purpose of my sign? Can I remove something without losing the main message? Remember, the purpose of your sign isn't to provide all of the facts - it's to project a single, focused message to your audience.


A driver only sees a billboard for a few seconds, yet we see far too many billboards where the main messaging is next to impossible to read. Most new designers have no idea about minimum letter heights and reading distances. Their signs might look nice, but are ultimately failing in their prime objective - to communicate a message that can be understood.

Our studio follows the "Standard Letter Visibility Chart", commonly used by Canadian Provincial & U.S. State Roads authorities, to ensure our signs can be read properly. For example, if your lettering is 10 inches high, the maximum readable distance of your sign is approximately 100 feet. Always be aware of where your sign will be installed and at what distance it will typically be viewed from. Once you know the distance, you can adjust the size of your lettering accordingly. If you're stuck, our professional staff can give you guidance on what size of letters are best for your sign.


We see a lot of meeting and conference signs designed without any sort of accent border. These signs generally lack punch, especially if they use a plain white background. It's important to take the approach that all good photographers use in their work - you need to frame your sign so that its design and messaging are unified and focused.

That's not to say you need a massive border around your sign. Depending on the other design elements, an accent border might be limited to just one or two sides of the sign. In some cases, a border isn't even necessary if the other elements are strong enough on their own. If you intend to place your sign into a metal or plastic frame, your sign will have more punch if the graphic elements complement the colour and style of the frame that will be used.


We've seen a lot of signs where either too many or too few colours are incorporated into the design. When only a single colour is used, it's very difficult to draw the eye to the sign. Adding too many colours, though, can hurt the effectiveness of the sign by creating clutter. As well, too many colours tend to "clash" and the design will come across as being tacky.

As a general rule, we recommend a minimum of two and a maximum of four solid colours in any design - enough to get your sign noticed but not overwhelm your audience. Remember that your choice of colours will have a dramatic effect on the readability of your sign. Black on yellow is much easier to read than red on grey, for example.

When a corporate logo is used, you should always complement its design by incorporating one of its colours into the text or border accent elements of the sign. Photos and other graphic images, unlike logos, typically include a whole spectrum of colours. However, there are usually one or two dominant "theme" colours that the eye can identify. Your sign should draw from the dominant colours (or a percentage, such as a half-tone), using them in the accent borders or supporting text.


With thousands of typestyles out there, it's very tempting to try to use every one that is available. New designers will often try to cram several different typestyles into one design - but all this does is create visual clutter.

As a general rule, choose only one "decorative" typestyle for your design. Although they might look cool, the fancier typestyles are not always legible and can obscure your message. Decorative styles should always be complimented with other phrases or body copy printed in a clearly legible typestyle. With logos, try to use a typestyle that is complimentary to the logo. If you have more than one message, or are using a full-colour or photographic image as your background, use varying "weights" of the same typestyle or modify the style through italics, bold, shadows, outlines or contrasting colours to make your central phrase or company name stand out and get noticed.


Remember, creating a sign that gets noticed isn't about being clever or cute - it's about getting your message across by maximizing three things: Visibility, Readability and Legibility. With our five easy tips, you'll be able to design a sign that both looks good and gets the job done.

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