It’s kinda funny, but ask someone today about what an identity sign is, and you will get a blank stare. From there, you will get a few guesses. But unfortunately, most of the answers you are incorrect. The main reason people don't know anything about this subject is simply, people take signs for granted.
(Note: I design custom electric signs)
After 15 years of people asking me what I do for a living, what I have found is, a majority of people have no idea about signage, in general. This is amazing to me. This is also quite sad. Why? Because signs are everywhere. Signs are integral to the way we live. Don't you think people would have a basic idea of what an identity sign is? Nope.
When you look around any sizable city, for example, Austin Texas or Provo Utah, you will see signs everywhere.
So, let’s get started. What actually is an identity sign? The answer is simple. Think about this. Next time you visit your local Starbucks Coffee, how did you get there? More than likely, you saw a sign on the building. Before you walk into your local Starbucks, there is a dimensional letter sign, an identity sign, mounted to the building. To be more specific, a Starbucks sign is a brand sign, since Starbucks is a brand. Walmart is a brand. So then, Walmart’s sign is a brand sign, and so forth.
Figure 1. Channel Letter Sign: Starbucks Coffee
Not every store or business is a brand. That’s right. A local mini mart in any town or city, for example, a simple name like Country Mini Mart, is also an identity sign. But it is not a brand name store. This is not because Country Mini Mart business is a one-off, but because it is not widely recognized by the general public. Brands are widely recognized by the public. A brand sign helps people identify a specific named gas station or a local convenient store over another store, like Chevron or 7-11.
Again, people take signs for granted. Why is this a fact? People in society, generally speaking, have no knowledge about the very signs which guide them to their destination, everyday. Literally, the general public has no idea what an identity sign is.
Figure 2. Vacuum-formed Face Channel Letter / Logo Sign: Walmart
Imagine driving around town and there were no business signs installed on any building. I mean every sign was missing: Starbucks, Walmart, Target. Would you be able to locate a store? Probably. But it would take some time. And it would be very frustrating. Now, consider trying to find a store for the first time and the business did not have an identity sign? Now imagine traveling to another town or city. Would you find the store? Probably after a lot of searching.
So, why are signs so important? If you owned a business, you would immediately realize how important an identity sign is. Right after having your company logo made, the sign for your business would be next. If you joined a local softball league (in your town), you would learn that they have a logo for their team. And eventually you would see this logo on a banner sign hanging on the fence of the softball field. This is identity signage.
So, why should a person learn about signs? Isn’t nice to know about something that your kids might ask you about? How about if you decide to open a business or start something that requires a logo to be designed which will eventually be made into a sign? Whatever endeavor you eventually get involved in, it does help to know the basics of signage. Remember, signs guide every person to their destination.
Let me ask you a question. Did you graduate from high school? Probably. Did your teachers instruct you how to balance a checkbook? No. Yet, before credit cards came along, a person used a checkbook all the time. Did your high school teacher show you how to manage a credit card? The answer is probably no. So, what happens to a young person when they turn 30 or 35? Does the word debt come to mind? Does the word stress come to mind? How about the term maxed out?
The reason why signage is so important to peoples lives is because we are surrounded by them. Signs help us find our destination, whatever that destination is: Target, Ross, Buffalo Wild Wings, Trader Joe's, Dollar Store, even a local dry cleaner. In fact, signs are so important to our vehicle travels. Imagine traveling long distance for hours. Are you relieved when you see a sign along the highway that reads Denny’s Restaurant or AM / PM? Of course you are. And how did you know those businesses were there? That’s right, an identity sign, a custom electric sign. And at night, a sign which lights up.
Figure 3. Front- and Back-Lit Channel Letter Sign: Subway Sandwich
Both McDonald’s and Subway’s unique logo designs are what allows the public to quickly and easily identify these companies, apart from their competitors. Again, how is this accomplished?
A brand designer creates a distinctive logo for each type of national company. Just like someone designed your car, your clothes, everything you own. Signs are no different. Someone designs signs. Someone builds signs. Someone installs signs. Installed signs are no different than an installed light fixture mounted on a building.
Figure 4. Pole Sign (Custom Shaped Sign Cabinet): McDonald's
So, who designs signs? I’m glad you asked. Unlike a graphic designer who designs graphics for printing, a professional sign designer creates concepts and plans for fabricating dimensional signage. That’s right. Signs are built, not printed. Signs are mounted and installed on a building. On the contrary, graphic designs are mostly printed onto calendars, business cards, labels, brochure and such.
A professional sign designer is not a graphic designer, yet they do know graphic design. A sign designer knows material, paints, vinyls, finishes, and the basics of fabrication and installation. A sign designer must know how to write specifications and create other technical drawings which are required for signs to be made and installed.
Professional sign design is pretty expansive and covers a number of areas, such as custom electric sign design, architectural sign design, and interior ADA signage. Other areas covered by sign design are Wayfinding sign design, environmental graphic design (EGD), and experiential graphic design (EGD). Specialized areas would include theme park design, and other specialty design fields. An example would be Las Vegas. Most signs along the Strip were designed by a professional sign designer.
So, the next time you arrive at your destination, whether it is a coffee shop, movie theater or grocery store, think about how you got there. You guessed it. The identity sign.