Heres a Good Sign

by : Thom Inman

The most important purpose of a sign is delivering a message. It takes a whole lot more than throwing a bunch of letters on a panel and hoping folks will see it. A completed sign is really a composition. Whether it's any good or not depends on four critical factors: Balance, Rhythm, Oneness, and Harmony.

For balance a good sign must be "pleasing" to the eye. It is the weight distribution that is considered first. It's not necessarily done symmetrically; rather, a well-balanced sign composition is optically effective and has a stability of sorts in the arrangement of the copy in relation to each of the other elements. There is a lot which is involved in this judgment for the competent sign writer the amount of copy, any illustrations or supporting images, letter styles, and certainly what the sign is supposed to do; advertise, sell, welcome, etc. Also, how far will it the sign be viewed from and how fast will the viewer be traveling, if at all. When the customer brings the sign writer copy that looks like a newspaper ad and doesn't allow any freedom for the professional to edit believing every word is essential there is often no hope for achieving a balance in the sign's layout.

Rhythm is what many signs lack due the sign writer's judgment in selecting too many letter styles in the same work. Aesthetically speaking, most signs look best when only one or two letter fonts are incorporated. Often modest variations of a font can be introduced to reduce rhythm interference when bringing impact and interest; however, too many styles of lettering on one sign visually distressing.

Oneness is when signs that have several groups of copy or messages and the viewer's eye smoothly follows the flow of the message from the primary message on to the secondary and finally onto the most subordinate. It can be achieved, or at least enhanced, by dividing the three messages and creating emphasis using reverse panels, bolding and other emphasis techniques.

Harmony is nothing more that incorporating the first three elements with discipline balance, rhythm and oneness. Without being sensitive to copy grouping, letter styles and things like coloring no layout will be achieved that has harmony. A prefect example of this is in the use of borders. Often borders on signs are completely unnecessary and only serve to distract the eye instead of supporting a certain style of letter. This is especially true when the border is excessively strong or of strong color. In the case of borderless signs, it is the flow of the graphics, shapes and lettering styles which provide the design and unity, balanced with uninterrupted harmony.

Often in my work with customers at Cedar Sign Company, a retailer of personalized welcome signs carved from red cedar, folks will deliver copy and design expectations which are a far cry from the proof we render for their approval. It's been my experience that when folks let us exercise our sign writing expertise by interpreting balance, rhythm, unity and harmony with professionalism and style their welcome signs and family name plaques deliver attractive and effective composition.