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Bad shop signage - but what makes it bad?

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This topic was imported from the Typophile platform

Hi typophiles.

I am doing a school project on bad shop signage, and that is a huge area, since almost every shop sign is terribly designed (At least i southeast London where I live).

I have been collection research material in the form of photographs of several hundreds of signs, which I have analyze.
I have created a list of certain errors that are often seen in shop signs. I have my own thoughts on why the errors are errors, but I am sure that you guys know so much more about typography than me.

The list is as follows:

Use of capital letters only

Use of 2 or more contrasting colors - Red, blue, green, yellow

Warping effects - you know those wavy effects etc.

Use of clipart

Use of shadow effect, outline/stroke effect, and diagonal effects

Compressed texts

Several typefaces

Wrong letter spacing/word spacing

Maybe you can contribute to an explanation of why these errors are actual errors. I know the obvious reasons but maybe
you guys have a different take on it? I am waiting in excitement :-)

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I don’t see many examples in your photos, but what’s really been bugging me lately are designers who think they’re doing a great job by using a really great book face for signage. A book face that works at ten points looks as chunky as Cooper Black when it’s three feet tall. Anyway…

Use of capital letters only

Not necessarily bad if the type is well-chosen and tracked appropriately. Unfortunately most signshops use the blackest faces around and track them like it’s 1979.

Use of 2 or more contrasting colors - Red, blue, green, yellow

This one tends to look really tacky because the intense colors call attention to cheap materials and poor workmanship.

Warping effects…Use of clipart…effects

Blatant evidence of cutting corners. Why pay someone to think when the letters can wave with a mouseclick?

Compressed texts

Bad because they’re always used in all caps and set too tight, turning them into a block of vertical lines.

Several typefaces

This is another trick used to cut corners. Don’t be creative, just let the fonts do the work!

Wrong letter spacing/word spacing

Impairs readability and looks like someone wasn’t really thinking about the work.

And as for who makes the signs, just watch job listings for these positions. You’ll see plenty of software experience requirements, and none even ask for a strong portfolio.

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Something else I probably should have brought up: seriously consider the possibility that some shop owners and signmakers know that their signs are crap, and make them that way on purpose. In a working-class neighborhood putting up a great sign might make a business seem haughty or expensive. Similar things happen in advertising: rock bands pay designers to give them the ”authentic” look of the indie music scene, government contractors and discount stores demand that their advertising look cheap to convince people that the money is really being spent elsewhere, etc.. You might try asking shop owners if they’re just trying to fit in.

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Once upon a time... Not to wax too nostalgic on how it was "always better in the old days", but Once upon a time signs were made by people who had trained for many years to learn the skills of painting signs, and when they weren't designed by the sign painters themselves, they were designed by professional designers. There was no other way, unless you were going to make the sign yourself. Then along came desktop publishing and vinyl plotters,and anyone who could afford the equipment could become a "sign maker." people with absolutely no graphics background at all could get work by charging less than they guy down the street who knew what he was doing.

@ james: Graphic design is communcation. A Crazy "Joe's Discount Carpet" sign is going to look different from an up-scale Presian rug store's sign, and if Crazy Joe's sign is a little loud and crass, that would be appropriate,, and wouldn't necessarily entail bad or artless design.

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Thought I remembered it.. less about size of the companies and more about "design illiterates" (his words) as is the case in much of the DTP. Finish your Caslon and let them hack it to death on signs : )

I am more concerned with the new illiterate individual "sign franchise owner" than the established "houses" of ANY size!

Edit: design challenged may be better than illiterate! And boy am I dumb... I thought you guys were saying the shops were too big. Are you in fact saying the signs are too big? I am confused... let me read again.


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Here's an example for ya...

Why would a computer store would use a calligraphy font and brush script (shudder)? The owners were Asian foreigners; I'm guessing the signmaker created this using his own taste, and they thought it looked slick. They've since gone out of business.

I guess it is slick compared to this, in the same neighborhood:

Obviously this poor guy had NO money for a sign.
He's gone out of business, too.

Now this one really is slick for White Center (the same hood for which I am trying to design a logo for their summer festival, asking for feedback in another design thread). I can't decide if I hate this, but it does seem to attract the target audience - this is a popular raucous nightclub.

And here's a special treat, something I photographed last Christmas. The owner created a quaint, nostalgic Christmas display in the window of his "adult superstore." I knew
no one would believe this without the photo as evidence.

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