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Posted by:SignCraft's Editors

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Stay in control of the layout

Monday, June 17, 2013

What kills a sign’s effectiveness? Usually it’s murder by the business owner: too much copy, unrelated graphics, etc. Sometimes, though, it’s failure to resuscitate by the sign person—not knowing what to do as the sign layout gasps for breath.

But there are ways to bring a layout back to life. It starts with staying in control of the copy. Bob Behounek shares his approach as he explains several truck door make-overs in the July/August 2013 issue of SignCraft. You’ll see a few of Bob’s before-and-after examples here with his comments, but don’t miss the rest in the magazine.

The Antique Restoration truck flashed by one day as I was standing in front of my home. I spotted the arched script line. Reading script on an arch is a challenge when the sign is standing still, much less on the move. I had to over-tax my concentration to read the rest before the truck was out of sight. If we sign people have to try extra hard to understand a moving ad like this, most viewers will not even give it a try. 

I liked the old-time rocking chair look—it gives the impression of something old. Moving it to the very left and encompassing it with an oval panel keeps it contained. It could be a logo, per se. Restoration was a big word. Using a somewhat bold upper- and lowercase sans serif letter helps readability here. It opens up some areas, giving holes and pockets to fill. Placing a loose chipped script Antique into this space and overlapping it over our oval panel links the whole composition. It becomes a complete design, with all the elements touching and holding this ad together.


The AtoZ Appliance ad was big enough to read from any speed or distance, but it was all the same type and weight. I broke up the message with two different type styles and sizes. AtoZ and Repair are the same so that they will read together. A casual italic in the word Appliance separates it in contrast and design. If nothing else, one would quickly know that AtoZ is a company that repairs appliances.

The Northwoods truck was a nice look—one of those soft-sell layouts I mentioned earlier. From a distance, though, and at speed, it is a stretch to read and comprehend. This layout reminds me of a business card that the client gave to the sign person to letter on his truck doors.

For the sake of readability, I would remove the home/tree graphic and balance the company name with a heavier, rough-chopped Northwoods and a larger, lighter weight upper- and lower case Remodeling. Remember, at the very least, we want the casual reader to know what this business is all about.

While we’re at it, here are a few more quick layout tips we’ve heard at SignCraft from more than one successful sign person:

Ask what matters most. Ask the client, “If the reader only catches one thing when they see this sign, what do you want it to be?” Explain that most viewers have three seconds or less to read a sign.

Keep most of the emphasis on that primary message. Secondary copy is secondary. It won’t matter to anyone unless they get the primary message. If the client insists on unnecessary copy, you can put it on there, but minimize it as much as possible. 

Use contrast to manage the copy. You have contrast of size, weight and color. Readers are busy and distracted, so you have to use fairly dramatic contrasts to make sure they get it. 

Contrast creates interest. It’s a lot more interesting to look at a whole landscape than a row of equally spaced fence posts.

Frame it up with open margins. We need space around words to read them quickly. Sometimes just adding healthy margins can make a dramatic improvement to a layout. 

Share some of these principles with the client, in plain English. Most will be impressed that there’s more to this sign design stuff than finding free clip art online. Be friendly about it. No one likes to feel put down.


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