Basics for sign design:
A checklist for testing your ads and signs
The primary purposes of a Sign or Ad:
To attract, to inform, identify or (as an Ad) to motivate.
See our free review details below.
Does your sign pass these eight simple checks?
If you're shopping for a sign or to have someone design an effective sign for you, use this to check the design before purchase.
Let's get started!
The Squint Test:
Hold the sign or layout before you and squint.
Can you make out what the sign says when you squint at it through your almost-shut eyelids? If not, your choice of colors and/or typestyles needs to be reconsidered, or there's just too much going on to be easily understood. Fancy does not equal readable.
Squeezing a lot into a limited space makes it easy to ignore.
The Meaning Test:
Is there one clear, easily understood message in the sign, or is it "cute" or unclear as to its purpose? Does the sign try to cover many, many points or products?
Be succinct; be colloquial K.I.S.S. Keep it simple and just get to the point, fast. See why below.
The Spew Test:
Does the person overseeing or designing the sign know exactly what they want
the sign to accomplish?
Common amateur mistake: Trying to put too much information or a cluster of photos on a sign, because "it fits", and because "there's still some space available", without thought to the function of the sign, or its purpose. But how much is too much?
The prevailing thought is, "Heck, I paid for it; I'll put my great-aunt's recipe on it if I want to."
Do you have a crystal clear idea of the purpose of the sign?
The 3-Second Test:
The ultimate goal of making a sign is to have it easily understood within 3 seconds. That's the average attention span of an American adult and it's falling rapidly, according to recent studies.
3 seconds (count off three seconds now- it's not a whole lot!) means that you need to clearly identify what you are selling, quickly. The company name should be second in importance, even if you're Pepsi.
The Colors Test:
Are the color values too close together (see Squint test)? For instance, a red letter with a royal blue outline (a very common and easy to remedy error) may appear fancy on the computer screen, in your email or at arms length, but IRL will be virtually unreadable from a distance or at street driving speeds. Colors that are too close together in value should not be used as outlines or backgrounds as that makes it more difficult to understand. If you look at the colors above and squint, many of the colors may blur together because they're too close in value. See it?
The VanGogh Test: (above)
Is the sign too artsy/busy to be readable?
Most people don't think twice about avoiding complicated things. Why bother?
Some "sign artists" pride themselves on how fancy and detailed their layouts are: Oooh, gilded gold 3D swash-y textured or outlined letters on a smalt glass background and curlycues up the yingyang in ten different typestyles with holographic foil and a cool theatric wash-out.
Cool. But can you read it from a distance? Or is it "art"?
The Shout Test:
This is practically the antithesis of "arty" or "florid". It's usually ALL CAPITAL
LETTERS BECAUSE THE PERSON TYPING OUT THE SIGN CAN'T BE BOTHERED. Don't waste your time or money.
The Scan Test:
Assuming you have several layouts for the same sign, put them side by side on your desktop. Now stand back and scan the signs, or ask a friend to scan them without telling them why. A better layout may stand out more, or be more readable, or certainly have that eye-catching quality.
Can you understand the roadway sign above in 3 seconds?
Looking for good sign design?
There are perhaps thousands of qualified professional sign shops and designers. At LetterBank | MyDIYsigns We have a trained and experienced art staff ourselves and we're also glad to review your art for free. That's free.
Email us with your sign photo or for more information and the kind of sign it will be. See examples of the kinds of signs below. Then write us and send a file, photo or sketch.
We love 'em. What are your thoughts? Did I leave anything out that you want to know more about?
Experienced? We welcome your expertise and sharing. Chime in with your thoughts and any comments you may have.