Discussion What's the most common design mistake you see made in sign design?

What's the most common mistake people make when designing a sign?


  • Total voters
    55

Tim Garner

ImageCo
I've been involved in the sign industry in one way or another for over 30 years, for the last 20 years, it's been primarily as a freelance logo designer. People generally hire me to design logos that are meant to be used in signage in one way or another. Beyond bad kerning and terrible font choices, I'm curious what are some of the worst design choices you've had customers make?

For example, I had one customer ask me to design a logo that featured an alligator wearing a chef's hat and cowboy boots standing next to a monster truck pulling a big BBQ.
 

JetPress

Member
I don't know that alligator sounds pretty amazing to me. ;)

We had a customer that wanted his business logo and contact info all in black vinyl but his truck was black....We suggested other colors but nope he said he wanted it to blend in. His excuse was that he wanted to be able to drink and drive in his company truck. Well we made and installed the decals on his truck and he then tells us "huh....I can't see the decals! Can you change to another color at a discount?" We didn't offer a discount and he went to Mexico to get it done cheap (according to him).
 
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Bobby H

Member
One MAJOR GIGANTIC ISSUE is missing from that list of choices above:
People stretching or squeezing the $#1T out of type to make it fit a given space.
It's very common to see default f***-off Arial treated in this manner. It's a hallmark of gutter trash sign design. Arial is at the top of the font menu. Never mind the hack probably has several thousand other choices available, including type families with far more native weights and widths. Nope. Just grab Arial instead of scrolling down for something more appropriate and versatile. Distort it to fit the space. Job done. VOMIT.

Arial is ugly enough as is, but looks even worse distorted. Some fonts look even worse than Arial when distorted, such as Gotham. Never distort a geometric monotone font like that. Anyone who squeezes or stretches Gotham really needs to get his eye sight checked.
 
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Solventinkjet

DIY Printer Fixing Guide
At my first job as a GD in a sign shop the bosses wife was in charge of final design decisions. All I heard all day long was, "Fill the space fill the space!" It didn't matter if it was a simple text 10' 'x 2' banner, the text had to be stretched to, "Fill the space". I turned out a lot of bad signs at that place!
 

Tim Garner

ImageCo
One MAJOR GIGANTIC ISSUE is missing from that list of choices above:
People stretching or squeezing the $#1T out of type to make it fit a given space.
It's very common to see default f***-off Arial treated in this manner. It's a hallmark of a gutter trash sign design. Arial is at the top of the font menu. Never mind the hack probably has several thousand other choices available, including type families with far more native weights and widths. Nope. Just grab Arial instead of scrolling down for something more appropriate and versatile. Distort it to fit the space. Job done. VOMIT.

Arial is ugly enough as is, but looks even worse distorted. Some fonts look even worse than Arial when distorted, such as Gotham. Never distort a geometric monotone font like that. Anyone who squeezes or stretches Gotham really needs to get his eye sight checked.
Yeah that is a big one, it's been added.
 

FireSprint.com

Trade Only Screen & Digital Sign Printing
Seeing yard signs digitally printed when they should have been more economically screen printed with more vibrant colors :D:p

Too much info is a close second. ;) Years ago, I designed promo yard signs for a pancake feed fundraiser and the lady insisted we include water as a drink option. These were small bandit signs. Not the menu.
 

Bobby H

Member
Solventinkjet said:
All I heard all day long was, "Fill the space fill the space!" It didn't matter if it was a simple text 10' 'x 2' banner, the text had to be stretched to, "Fill the space".

I'll bet she probably didn't have a good grasp on the concept of negative space and its importance to a design layout.

Lots of upper middle class and upper class business districts have enacted very restrictive sign ordinances. Some even ban street signs entirely, confining businesses only to using modest sized signs on the buildings. These severe ordinances are spreading to more cities and towns. I believe two major factors are involved with inspiring these anti-signs ordinances. One is many businesses just don't maintain their stuff and let things fall apart. Blight is a major eye sore. Poor quality graphic design is another. I often gripe about people using knee-jerk default fonts and distorting them to cram into a sign panel. That habit also goes along with other tendencies, like making sign designs rife with clutter, such as a multi-listing sign with lots of tiny tenant panels crammed with far more copy than any passing motorist could have a chance to read. Commercial property owners deserve the blame for that. They want something cheap, but want the whole phone book out there on a couple poles. That stuff gets the "town beautification" folks to pester their city council people.
 
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iPrintStuff

Prints stuff
Most noticeable one for me has to be bad kerning. Kerning is sneaky because most normal people don’t notice or care but I hate it.
 

eahicks

Magna Cum Laude - School of Hard Knocks
All of these are good....kerning, too much/little negative space. Color combos are on of the big ones I see. Red on black, red on blue, red with blue outlines....ugh. I have to talk so many people out of those.
Overuse of trendy fonts is big too....the swirly crap, or that Cowboy font, whatever it's called. Also, too many fonts in one layout.
 

JBurton

Signtologist
While not a design decision that's visible, it's still design... Putting 4 mounting holes, evenly spaced & in line, on letters like: O S M W
Ever see an upside down S that the installers didn't see?
These days I'm very habitual in my asymmetrical placement of mounting holes.
 

Tim Garner

ImageCo
Most noticeable one for me has to be bad kerning. Kerning is sneaky because most normal people don’t notice or care but I hate it.
When it's too tight it makes it all but impossible to read from a distance, it's right up there with all caps which makes every word look like a rectangle.
 

Andy D

Active Member
At my first job as a GD in a sign shop the bosses wife was in charge of final design decisions. All I heard all day long was, "Fill the space fill the space!" It didn't matter if it was a simple text 10' 'x 2' banner, the text had to be stretched to, "Fill the space". I turned out a lot of bad signs at that place!

I FEEL YOUR PAIN! I have been in that situation a couple of times.
I also have had a boss's wife who had to approve a sized down sample of every single print, didn't matter if it was a yard sign &
she made it a point to make small changes a couple times every single time... I would spend 1/3 of my day twiddling my thumbs waiting
for her to find time to check my print & then she would b***h when stuff was late. I ended up not even making changes & she would approve
the 2nd or 3rd sample that was the same print.
 

Tim Garner

ImageCo
While not a design decision that's visible, it's still design... Putting 4 mounting holes, evenly spaced & in line, on letters like: O S M W
Ever see an upside down S that the installers didn't see?
These days I'm very habitual in my asymmetrical placement of mounting holes.
No, I haven't seen that but I have seen the entirely wrong sign design (one that was rejected by the customer) get built and installed...custom channel letters with neon.
 

Tim Garner

ImageCo
I FEEL YOUR PAIN! I have been in that situation a couple of times.
I also have had a boss's wife who had to approve a sized down sample of every single print, didn't matter if it was a yard sign &
she made it a point to make small changes a couple times every single time... I would spend 1/3 of my day twiddling my thumbs waiting
for her to find time to check my print & then she would b***h when stuff was late. I ended up not even making changes & she would approve
the 2nd or 3rd sample that was the same print.
I've had that happen so many times as a freelancer that I made a habit of purposely introducing some kind of flaw into a design so that customers would have something to point out that I could fix for them. If I didn't they would find a flaw that wasn't there and they'd end up ruining a perfectly good design.
 

JetPress

Member
Overuse of trendy fonts is big too....the swirly crap, or that Cowboy font, whatever it's called. Also, too many fonts in one layout.

For awhile the Bleeding Cowboy font followed me everywhere. I cracked up and felt a little jealous when I went to eat at the Cabo Wabo Cantina in Las Vegas a few years ago. I saw their logo was just Bleeding Cowboy with very little or no adjustments to it. I bet that graphic designer made some $$$ off of Sammy Hagar for spending a minute on typing that out.
 

Bobby H

Member
iPrintStuff said:
Most noticeable one for me has to be bad kerning. Kerning is sneaky because most normal people don’t notice or care but I hate it.

Too many people simply roll with whatever default kerning is built into the typeface. They type out the text string and don't adjust anything (other than squeezing or stretching it, of course).

eahicks said:
Overuse of trendy fonts is big too....the swirly crap, or that Cowboy font, whatever it's called. Also, too many fonts in one layout.

I don't mind someone using a new, commercial typeface on a project, as long as it works with the design. Too many different typefaces is a common problem in bad layouts. Another is toxic font combinations -like Brush Script, Serpentine Bold and Arial Black (stretched) all in the same layout. That goes together about as well as vanilla ice cream topped with motor oil. Some people have a good eye for pleasing font combinations. Most people do not.

Certain typefaces do get overused. I've seen Bleeding Cowboys and Saddlebag on too many "western" looking signs. Recently I had to use the Bleeding Cowboys typeface on one project (to match the customer's art/logo) but went with the commercial "pro" version, which at least lets you get rid of all the swooshy swashy stuff on the capital letter characters with OTF alternates.
 
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