All businesses need great signage to attract new customers and to showcase their special events, sales or deals. The seemingly daunting task of designing a custom sign often falls on the business owner. Business owners with no previous experience in graphic design should keep a few basic design principles in mind when creating signs.
Use colour carefully. Colourful signs may be eye-catching, but they can also be confusing. Business owners should be sure to use colour consistently and choose colour schemes that fit with their branding. For outdoor signage, light backgrounds with dark graphics generally provide a high level of readability. White text on a solid colour background is also very easy to read. They also look professional and will inspire confidence in passers by. Avoid using two similar shades for background and text. For example, imagine a brand’s colours are red, white and pink. A sign could have white text on a red background or red text on a white background, but should not use pink and red together for text and background. Very bright colours should be used sparingly for accents, but not for backgrounds or text.
Pay attention to font choice. A high level of readability is a key indicator of good graphic design. Custom signs should be easy for consumers to read. Business owners should use fonts that are not overly complex or cutesy. Sans-serif fonts are more legible than serif fonts. Remember that it’s advisable to use no more than three different fonts on the same sign. Too many different fonts will make the sign look cluttered and amateur. Also do not use all capital letters. The exceptions are business names branded with all caps or safety signs where all caps are required (STOP signs for example). Choose a font family with many styles: bold, light, italic, medium and extra wide. This gives you the ability to separate information on the sign with different styles of the same font, creating distinct messages with consistent visuals.
Use consistent design. It’s important that signs display consistency. Colours, fonts and graphics should be well coordinated. Individuals who see a sign shouldn’t be left with the impression that a certain design element is out of place. The easiest way to maintain consistent design is to keep it simple. Simple signs are always more attractive than complicated and busy signs. Pay attention to the whitespace as well as design elements. Keeping a 50/50 ratio between whitespace and graphics or text helps keep the sign very easy to read. Whitespace allows the reader to focus, navigate and select information.
Think ahead to where the sign will be placed. A custom sign can represent a substantial investment for a small business owner. It’s important to take the environment where the sign will be placed into consideration. If there are high winds, regular snow or high temperatures, it’s best to splurge on signs made out of weather-resistant materials such as vinyl or Plexiglas. If a sign will feature lighting, take into consideration whether or not solar energy sources are an option. Solar-powered signs will cost a business less to operate than traditional neon signs or signs with fluorescent lighting. Indoor signs should be placed at eye level. Take into consideration the speed of the person passing your business when creating an outdoor sign. If the majority of traffic by your door is on foot, a smaller sign will suffice. However, if your business is located on a high-speed road, a larger sign with highly-legible print will allow potential customers to absorb the message more easily.
Small business owners who plan on conducting their own marketing campaigns may wish to read this great primer on basic design principles. Business owners can also snap photos of eye-catching signs to use as design inspiration.
Brandon Serna is a writer for FASTSIGNS, a leading signage company that specializes in business signs, banners, vehicle wraps and many other visual communication services..