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Before & After: How to deal with way too much copy

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

SignCraft recently asked veteran sign designer Bob Behounek to show how he would redesign typical signs we’ve seen along the road. We’ve asked Bob to explain the tools he would use to make these signs more appealing and more effective. 
    We know nothing about how the sign originated—what the client insisted upon, how they controlled the layout, or how they limited the sign shop that produced the sign. Our goal is simply to continue to give SignCraft readers knowledge, skills and ideas that they can use to create signs of higher value. Don’t miss the series in
SignCraft magazine. Here’s what Bob had to say about this particular sign:

We’ve all had the experience of showing a more effective layout and having a client reject it in favor of their own version. It’s a fact of the sign business. But it doesn’t keep us from trying to help them get the best value for their investment in signage. 

My hunch is that this client set up the text similar to a newspaper ad. But a sign has to have a single dominant message. When a client feels everything they do is important, all the text ends up about the same size. There’s no contrast to help our reader’s eye maneuver through all the information.

Readers roll past this sign at 45 mph. I had several readers read the copy, and on average it took 12 seconds for them to read it all. At 45 mph, in those 12 seconds we would be a block or so down the road by the time we got to the third line! Let’s see what recommendations could make this a more effective ad.

I’m going to separate the messages and prioritize them, organizing them in order of importance. It’s impossible for anyone except foot traffic to read all the messages on this sign—even if the client refuses to consider this. He’s insisting that all the copy stay, so we’ll do the best we can to control it.

Our dominant feature has to be Maxx Foods. This looks like a good opportunity to create a logo for that. This will help set up a separation of the information through contrasts in type and gives Maxx its own look.

That’s followed by their main items of sale: Restaurant, Bakery, Meats and Produce. I don’t know the business, but I’ll choose Restaurant as most important because it is listed first on the existing sign. 

I’m going to place Restaurant in a geometric-shaped panel and reverse the copy, creating another contrast of shape and color. A stylized arrow points downward to a second shape that houses our remaining services.

These shapes will help us focus on the key information in those two seconds we have to comprehend the message. Think of it as a sign inside a sign. It reduces the visual clutter.

Now for the list of services. We have six services plus three money-related features: EBT stamps, money orders and check cashing. Separating these two groups will help our readers get the information in the order we want them to get it. 

I’d recommend smaller shapes to house the money-related messages in their respective logo colors. This separates them from the above features and services.

I’ll bet our client controlled much of the design process. The client didn’t, or couldn’t, take into consideration the speed, the reading time and the text comprehension. A cluttered, hard-to-read sign is set up for failure. With a more effective layout, a sign can improve the chances of success for a business.

Bob Behounek, Lockport, Illinois



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