Art and Science of Sign Design

Sign design is a complex process. It may seem quite simple to use the colors, lettering and positioning that appeal to you. However, there is a much broader audience of viewers and target customers to consider. Understanding how science and art blend together to create strong sign designs is, therefore, important. The following table highlights some dos and don’ts of sign design. Each point incorporates relevant elements of art, science, or both. If you follow these guidelines as outlined, you’ll be able to produce signs that generate authentic leads for your business.

Do: Ensure that your sign is visible at the longest possible distance.

Don’t: Never create a sign with a poor combination of lettering and colors that can only be understood upon closer viewing.

Reason: There is a short window of time between when a driver spots a sign and when he or she passes it. This window of time is called the Decision Sign Distance (DSD). A motorist has to have enough time to read the sign, process the information, and react.


Do: Pay attention to the environment in which your sign is going to be placed.

Don’t: Never create a sign that is “hidden” in its environment.

Reason: Anyone looking at your sign isn’t just seeing the sign. The sign is being viewed in the context of its environment (structures, landscape and visual sight lines).


Do: Use logos, fonts and words on the sign that are easily recognizable.

Don’t: Never use indistinguishable features on your sign.

Reason: Your sign needs to be memorable and easy to understand. The more recognizable it is, the quicker it will be processed by the viewer’s brain. If viewers can clearly identify what you’re offering, and that product or service interests them, they’ll become paying customers.


Do: Use the right contrast between your sign’s foreground and background.

Don’t: Never use colors and a background that poorly contrast.

Reason: The right contrast can make a sign stand out. A sign’s exterior contrast is a comparison between the sign’s edge to the background against which it must be viewed.  Interior contrast compares the copy to the background. Both forms of contrast should be in the right proportions to boost visibility.


Do: Use the largest possible letters and the most legible font.

Don’t: Use small lettering and fonts that are difficult to read.

Reason: Signs should be at a 40 feet distance per inch of letter height so that they can be easily understood and viewed. The strokes of the letters should be one-fifth the height of each letter. This makes the font more readable.


Do: Consider the limitations of the viewer.

Don’t: Neglect to consider people with poor eyesight.

Reason: The Vision Council of America states that about 75% of adults use some form of vision correction. Additionally, most people see poorly in low-light conditions. Vision also declines with age. Therefore, signs should be designed so that they can be seen both at day and at night.


Do: Position your sign in the viewer’s cone of vision.

Don’t: A sign shouldn’t be more than 10 degrees outside the viewers cone of vision

Reason: Positioning your sign in the viewer’s cone of vision ensures that the driver can stay focused on the road, but still be able to view your sign.


Do: Pay attention to your sign’s luminance. Luminance is the amount of light a color reflects off a surface

Don’t: Use too many colors that have low luminance.

Reason: Signs with a higher percentage luminance show brighter. The percentage luminance for the most commonly used colors is given below.

Black: 0-5%

Red: 10-15%

Brown: 15-30%

Blue: 25-30%

Green: 25-40%

Yellow: 65-70%

White: 75-90%

Luminance is especially important for night visibility. If your sign’s luminance is low, it won’t be seen by people driving at night.

Do: Pay attention to your sign’s luminescence. Luminescence is the light emitted from a light source.

Don’t: Use colors that have a low luminescence.

Reason: Colors with a higher luminescence are more visible, especially at nights.  The luminescent colors arranged from dimmest to brightest are: red, blue, green and yellow.

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