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Saturday, August 27, 2016

Sign Design

Eye-catching, simple image, memorable message.
It's no accident that some universities in the U.S. (and quite a few more elsewhere) offer a degree they call the Bachelor of Arts and Science (BAS). It's basically a double major but a single degree. This course of studies recognizes the fact that in many professional endeavors there is often quite a fine line between that which could be termed an "art" and what we usually recognize as a "science." Frequently that which at one time was considered an "art" has now been studied to such a degree that many of its aspects have been boiled down to a science. One such area is that of sign design. Where once the client and artist painting the sign put their heads together and instinctively decided what would be both attractive and effective (two major criteria) with one usually taking precedence over the other.
The warning sign (center) says way too much.
The exclamation mark (upper-right), far too little.
Road signs are an example. As art goes, they're seldom very attractive, though sometimes quite creative (even humorous, as above). Their main aim is to impart critical information as to what lies ahead. They must do so quickly and unambiguously. History and common practices have turned this type of sign into a science that saves people's lives. Art has little to do with that. However, along the same highway, we find giant billboards in which, as my wife sometimes notes, "Someone got paid a lot of money to come up with that stupid idea." She's right of course, the fact that the theme of the sign appears rather "stupid" or at least unconventional, is, in reality, what make the sign eye-catching in the first place, and even more important, memorable (below). A sign noting a curve in the road need only be memorable for a few seconds before having served its purpose. However a massive billboard depicting the birth of a baby with the giant words, "ABORTION KILLS" first stuns the viewer, perhaps even offends, but in any case grabs attention and, finally, may be memorable for years to come.
Someone got paid a lot of money...
Speaking of years, road signs have been around about as long as roads, if for no other reason than to identify the name of the road and perhaps as mile markers so travelers could mark their progress. Advertising signs, if there were any, were largely haphazard and incidental. It was hardly worth the bother in that so few people did much traveling, and in any case had little need for information on roadside products and services. Of course the automobile changed all that. Roads multiplied and improved. They grew longer, wider, smoother, and straighter. Speeds increased. Signs of all kinds proliferated as did, eventually, the science of size, placement, images, and messages. Not only that, but often they were vitally important economically as whole towns lived (and sometimes died) in relying on a well-traveled highway passing through. U.S. Rt. 66, as it beat a paved path across the west, is a near-perfect example.
Signs such as the five-cent Coca-Cola sign (above-right) seem
quaint to us today; but actually, the bottled carbonated
beverage sold for five cents for some seventy years.
While sign painting and messaging were once strictly the domain of artists and advertisers, today, thanks to the ubiquitous portable signboards seen along streets and highways everywhere, virtually anyone can say about anything their freedom of speech allows. Very often there's more than a grain of truth in the wit and wisdom which such lighted signage proclaims. Our church once posted with their ever-changing letters the question: "What on earth are you doing for heaven's sake?"
Democracy at work--tweeting for the masses.
Road signs of the future.

Solar signage.

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