It seems easy: throw words on a board, hang the board from a post, and call it a sign. Okay if you're five years old and selling homemade lemonade on the street corner. If you're a business owner, read on to see how keeping your sign simple attracts business, brands your company, and prevents your sales from going sour:
1 Consider the Type of Sign You're Designing. Will it hang from the building, be mounted between posts as an internally lit sign, adhere to your vehicle like a moving billboard? Or will you purchase several different sign options? Whatever you decide, remember, subtlety should not be your goal, but simplicity should be (see below, Keep It Simple, Silly). A truly good design is transferable to many different types of signs.
2 Who's Your Audience? Consider your audience and the language you use on your signs. Point-of-purchase signs (commonly found in retail outlets and supermarkets) and banners at a business trade show are signs read by different groups of people: consumers vs. business people. Watch your use of technical jargon and make consumer-based signs look like something Ma, Pa, and the family can relate to.
3 Remember: It's a Large Graphic, Not a Small Print Ad. Did you take paragraphs of text from your print ad, and apply it to your work van as vehicle graphics? Do you love your business card layout so much that you want it duplicated verbatim as a 3 x 5 sign? Don't do it! When people are seated reading the newspaper, they can easily scan paragraphs of text. Signs are viewed as people are moving from place to place. Consider this: Branding your business requires that you use your logo, which is worth a thousand words, but is the logo recognizable when enlarged? Not all images transfer well from large format to small.
4 Color, Color, Color. Think contrast, and your sign design will automatically rank as professional quality. It seems obvious, but keep your background colors in sharp contrast to the text and graphics. What's one of the best color combinations to use for readability? You guessed it, good 'ole black and white. Please note: Never, ever use yellow text against a white background. And white text on yellow is not any more readable. To punch up the contrast, outline light colors, like yellow, with a darker color.
5 KISS: Keep it Simple Silly. As stated before, signs require simplistic layouts because they're seen by moving traffic, by people in cars or on foot. Less is more when designing your business signage since people have to read the text on the fly. Make every word count, and abbreviate when possible.
Final Comments. Keeping it simple does have to mean your signs and graphics look like the first attempts by a beginner graphic artist. Color shading, a variety of fonts and adding a shadow to text are all good ways to elevate your sign to the "better" category. But much like a neophyte designing a PowerPoint display, the overuse of gimmicky distortions, hard-to-read fonts (all upper Old English comes to mind), and panels jam-packed with verbiage, defeats the purpose of having a sign.