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Designing for signs

Discussion in 'Newbie Forum' started by Mark H, Oct 12, 2018.

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  1. Mark H

    Mark H Member

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    Obviously designing for a sign is a lot different than designing for print. If I hire a designer that has never designed signs before is there a recommended guide out there somewhere. I have found a lot of stuff online but if there is one place to go to get the best information on sign designing please let me know, I appreciate it.
     
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  2. myront

    myront CorelDRAW is best

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    As for regulations and such for signage we don't have any set guidelines here. Only occasionally will we get requests with specific guidelines i.e. Public Hearing signs or major construction zone signage. Other than that "bigger is always better". Short messages, not text heavy.
    Don't think for a minute that "sign designers" know any less about design. We also design some pretty intense tradeshow graphics and vehicle graphics. As a plus a "sign designer" will more than likely know the in's and out's of the print process as most of us print our own signs.
     
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  3. Rick

    Rick Certified Enneadecagon Designer

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    That's a trick question...
    What kind of sign design? or do you mean "layout"
    Can you (or anyone in your shop) layout a sign?

    Most here can hit a print button, cut a panel, and slap something on a substrate.
    I believe layout (with some real design) is the main thing that differentiates one shop from another and hoping for a publication to explain it might be difficult to do without knowing the particulars.

    What are you looking for? a software monkey? someone who can think conceptual? a replicator? some aptitude for production? or a combination of all 4?
    Any preference in software?
    What's your shop's capability?

    Even though I am a seasoned designer, I have or get all these books and publications...

    Industry magazines have the most current information once you cut out 80% of the advertising. All these publications cater to some niche in the business.
    -- Signcraft: https://www.signcraft.com
    -- Signs of the Times: https://www.signsofthetimes.com
    -- Signs and Digital Graphics: https://sdgmag.com
    -- Sign Builder Illustrated: https://www.signshop.com
    -- EG Magazine: https://segd.org/egMagazine


    The absolute best book on branding for small business and how it applies to signage is:
    -- Building a Big Small Business Brand: How to Turn Your Brand into Your Most Valuable Asset: https://www.amazon.com/Building-Big...&qid=1539350368&sr=1-1&keywords=dan+antonelli

    For the process of sign design in a sign shop:
    -- Inside Sign Design - I hesitate to recommend it... poorly written, very skewed opinion of what the sign business is - but once you get past the flaws, explains the process fairly well. Mostly electrical signs, monuments, pylon signs. He also has 2 other books of interest regarding dimensional letters and attachments.
    http://signbusinessbooks.com


    The old standard - and I really think it needs revising but a few older sign people will recommend it, I think it's very dated and uses a lot of language to explain the use of space, color and rhythm - Mastering Layout: On the art of eye appeal: https://www.amazon.com/Mastering-La...-272b-49ca-a90f-6161cb3962b1&ref_=pd_gw_psimh

    High end sign design process:
    -- Environmental Graphics: Projects and Process: https://www.amazon.com/Environmental-Graphics-Projects-Wayne-Hunt/dp/0060548444
    -- Signage and Wayfinding Design: A Complete Guide to Creating Environmental Graphic Design Systems: https://www.amazon.com/Signage-Wayf...349822&sr=8-3&keywords=environmental+graphics

    I
    don't have this book, but have seen it and recommend it:
    https://www.charboneausigns.com/shop

    For CorelDraw sign designers there is a yahoo group... though not very active at this time.

    If you or anyone can't design, you might hire a freelance designer to have on call who can do a peer review and guide your designer till they become accustomed to it.
     
    Last edited: Oct 14, 2018
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  4. neato

    neato Very Active Member

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    Rick makes some excellent suggestions with those books.

    I'm sure it's frustrating for sign shop owners to find a designer that "gets it". I remember when I first got into the business and was looking for a job as a designer in a local shop getting turned down for not having a graphic design degree. A month later he hired a girl with a degree who unfortunately had no business working in a sign shop. They were putting out a lot of crap and shortly thereafter went out of business.

    My recommendation, don't be that shop owner. A degree means NOTHING in this business.

    Find someone who has a good design sense and shows a passion for the business. The best way to learn is just observing and imitating. There are so many good designers out there already doing this work. Notice how they design and what makes their work effective. Package design in the grocery store is a good source for inspiration for our field. They have the same few seconds to grab the attention of potential customers as we do in the sign world.

    Design is the one aspect of this business that seems to have taken a backseat. Too many shop owners don't put enough emphasis on design and by doing so are doing a disservice to themselves, their customers and their community. I see so many people posting work that is made well, maybe with all kinds of neat effects and textures, but the basic layout just ruins it the design. And I mean simple things like leaving whitespace (breathing room) around the copy. Most shops dont' get it unfortunately, and by searching for a good designer, you can be the one in your area that does. That alone will make you stand out to those higher end clients.

    Design is the foundation of any good sign shop.
     
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  5. Billct2

    Billct2 Major Contributor

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    These two books that Rick recommended are a good start.
    Building a Big Small Business Brand: How to Turn Your Brand into Your Most Valuable Asset:
    Mastering Layout: On the art of eye appeal
    You have to understand good sign design in order to evaluate an employee.
     
  6. JTBoh

    JTBoh I sell signage and signage accessories.

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    Design/Build project - for a 15' tall multi-tenant.
    Put it together in about 30 mins - it's darts at a board, but the only info I got was A) name of building B) number of tenants and C) "as big as possible".

    IMO, 30 mins on a $20k+ project is a pretty good ROI of time. It shows off some skills that we have, builds customer interaction, and might even result in a "That ONE!"

    One reason why a designer succeeds as a sign designer is because they have an understanding that their time costs the owner money - and they use that time in a good manner to get sh1t done. They also have to have "it", the eye. Some simply don't, even with degrees. Interpretation of the needs of the customer and of the PM is key - which is why I do 90% of my own design now.
     

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    Last edited: Oct 12, 2018
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  7. VanderJ

    VanderJ Merchant Member - Printer Parts and Sevice

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    The principles of design are CRAP. Contrast, Repetition, Alignment, Proximity. Or at least that is how I was taught. My first design job was in a sign shop and the owner's wife made all of the final decisions on design. She would always say, fill up the space more! That is great advice but she went overboard to the point of making me distort text to unreadable dimensions just to, "fill the space" I'm sure you can find some guides out there but nothing beats experience.
     
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  8. Rick

    Rick Certified Enneadecagon Designer

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    My personal opinion on a design degree is:

    It depends on the degree.
    It depends on how the applicant applies what they have learned.
    It depends on the needs of the signshop.

    The same thing applies to experience. One of my favorite things to say is: Do you have 10 years of experience, or do you have 1 year repeated 10 times...
    All the books I suggested mean nothing if they don't apply it.

    If you as an owner lack in design expertise. You might want to hire someone with a little experience from a shop that trains their workers well.
     
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  9. neato

    neato Very Active Member

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    One of the phrases that make me cringe as a designer, along with:

    "Make my phone number bigger"

    "Make my logo bigger"

    "Make it pop"

    "Make it look awesome"

    "Just squish/stretch it to make it fit"

    "Fit my square logo to a long rectangle shape"

    "I need a logo. I don't care what it looks like as long as it looks awesome"

    Seriously, can we just ban the words "awesome" and "pop" now?
     
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  10. visual800

    visual800 Very Active Member

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    books mean nothing unless you already have the skills within. You cannot be taught design you cannot be taught to draw, however you can excel by these items if they are already instilled in you
     
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  11. myront

    myront CorelDRAW is best

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    Make it a "fun" font. Make the first letter "Arial 100" and the rest "Arial 110"
    "Do whatever you think"..."That's not what I wanted at all"
    "looks purple on my screen, please ensure it's blue"
    And from a "schooled designer"..."it's already sized" ...uh not!
     
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  12. neato

    neato Very Active Member

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    "The colors look wrong on my phone"

    "I want it to look modern"

    "Make the letters 4" high"
     
  13. WildWestDesigns

    WildWestDesigns Major Contributor

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    Drawing in of itself, is natural to everyone. How the brain breaks down shapes, proportions etc tends to be where things come differently to different people. That can actually be taught.

    I had a really good art teacher in HS, very good at teaching techniques that best fit the individual student to help them improve translating what was in their head/in front of their eyes on paper (computers weren't in the art class back in those days).

    Now granted, this does depend on what the person does with the techniques that are shown them.

    Those techniques that my art teacher showed are probably what isn't taught as much (if at all) at the "higher" education level of graphic design, maybe more fine art, but not graphic design. That's probably were a lot of the consternation here is from.

    Unfortunately (at least in my little corner of the world), even if someone is good at designing, doesn't mean that they are good at all forms of production. Production is one of those things that doesn't do well with just theory education (more of the book/video/classroom type of learning). That is the more of the school of hard knocks.


    I firmly do believe that no education is bad education, it's what the person does with said education.
     
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  14. Rick

    Rick Certified Enneadecagon Designer

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    Skills and talent are 2 different things...

    As seen on many examples (good and bad) on this site, you can be taught the principles of design and drawing enough to service the needs of most of our clients... only a select few have been sprinkled with magic dust...
     
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  15. VanderJ

    VanderJ Merchant Member - Printer Parts and Sevice

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    I took 2 years of art classes and 4 years of graphic design. I was good enough to get a job at a sign company because I know my way around Illustrator and Photoshop but realized fairly early on that, while I could create print ready files, I have almost 0 artistic talent. That's a good combo for designing a banner with only text on it but when people wanted more complex designs I failed miserably. That's why I am now a technician!
     
  16. WildWestDesigns

    WildWestDesigns Major Contributor

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    Again, it all depends on how you used that education.

    Now, if one adds in crappy teacher into the mix, that can skew things as well. That means more has to be on your end to improve, but that's the case no matter what degree you are looking in.

    Maybe I was just lucky in having the art teacher that I did back in HS (my college ed. wasn't remotely near art/design fields, my formal education was in HS as far as this conversation goes).
     
  17. signman315

    signman315 Signmaker

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    Yup, the most successful designers have a combo of natural and honed talent/skill. There are plenty of OK designers out there that either have natural talent OR heavily practiced skill and they can output generally acceptable work a percentage of the time. But there are some who have both and that's when the magic happens IMO....to try to throw a book or even a class at someone will only get them so far, it takes a lot of trial and error, common sense (not so common these days) and thick skin. A lot of designers have a personal attachment to their designs as if it's one of their children, which may lead them to defend a design that isn't so good...and so a designer also needs to have a somewhat cold, thick skin in order to ditch their bad ideas and elaborate on the better ones. For every 1 good design you output there's probably 20 bad ones that you should never let see the light of day lol, and frankly that's a rather high success rate lol. Photographers, for example, might take 1000+ photos during a single shoot, and it's considered a great success if you get 10 good images out of it....design is similar IMO.

    Also there's nothing that a better designer hasn't already done, so it's a huge advantage to start a project by looking at what else has been done with similar designs/industries that you are designing for. Don't steal their ideas and don't create work that's derivative of theirs, but just getting a look at how they tackled it can get your juices flowing. Long term, experienced mentors are the best way to pass design juju from one generation to the next. Find your Mr. Miyagi lol.
     
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  18. aGrainofSalt

    aGrainofSalt New Member

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    CRAP changes all the time! Pun intended. Last time I was in a classroom, it was ECBARF (2005)
    Emphasis, Contrast, Balance, Alignment, Repetition, Flow

    With importance in that order.

    Also, agree with Neato that a degree means little in this area. I know plenty of designers with degrees that I wouldn't pay to make a square and plenty of people that have the "eye" for it with no formal training that produce much more effective designs.

    I have no degree and have never seen the purpose. I taught my instructors things they didn't know and they weren't teaching you how to actually make producible graphics. Finding a good production designer is not an easy task.
     
  19. Rick

    Rick Certified Enneadecagon Designer

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    I didn't go to school (ok, I went for 6 months and dropped out...). I was mentored by quite a few ruthless old farts...
    I was taught:
    Order, Variety, Contrast, Symmetry, Tension, Balance, Scale, Texture, Space, Shape, Light, Shade, Color as well as Proportion, Conspicuity and Relation (to the observer, architecture, brand, or connection to what is being promoted)

    The common mistakes I see is... designers do not connect their layouts or design work to the branding, architecture and code restrictions. I can knock out pylon sign designs up the wazoo in record time. But if it doesn't relate somehow to the architecture, there is a disconnect between the sign and the building and those looking for their destination. Or adding typefaces and color to a wrap, banner or panel and do not work well with the existing logo, or code signs that are non-compliant as well as not cohesive to the project. This can be taught...
     
    Last edited: Oct 12, 2018
  20. Billct2

    Billct2 Major Contributor

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    Totally agree with Rick "you can be taught the principles of design and drawing enough to service the needs of most of our clients... only a select few have been sprinkled with magic dust..."
    I did go to sign school, not art school, where you were taught brush skill and sign design. But that was just the start. I have worked with some of those who have the magic and it's inspiring.
     
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