Signage is the design or use of signs and symbols to communicate a message to a specific group, usually for the purpose of marketing or a kind of advocacy. A signage also means signs collectively or being considered as a group. The term signage is documented to have been popularized in 1975 to 1980.
Signs are any kind of visual graphics created to display information to a particular audience. This is typically manifested in the form of wayfinding information in places such as streets or on the inside and outside of buildings. Signs vary in form and size based on location and intent, from more expansive banners, billboards, and murals, to smaller street signs, street name signs, sandwich boards and lawn signs. Newer signs may also use digital or electronic displays.
The main purpose of signs is to communicate, to convey information such that the receiver may make cognitive decisions based on the information provided. In general, signs may be classified according to the following functions:
- Information: signs conveying information about services and facilities, such as maps, directories, or instructional signs.
- Direction: signs showing the location of services, facilities, functional spaces and key areas, such as sign posts or directional arrows.
- Identification: signs indicating services and facilities, such as room names and numbers, restroom signs, or floor designations.
- Safety and Regulatory: signs giving warning or safety instructions, such as warning signs, traffic signs, exit signs, or signs conveying rules and regulations.
The French enseigne indicates its essential connection with what is known in English as a flag, and in France, banners not infrequently took the place of signs or sign boards in the Middle Ages. Signs, however, are best known in the form of painted or carved advertisements for shops, inns, etc. They are one of various emblematic methods used from time immemorial for publicly calling attention to the place to which they refer.
The ancient Egyptians and Romans were known to use signs. In ancient Rome, signboards were usually made from stone or terracotta, and Greeks are known to have used signs also. Many Roman examples are preserved, among them the widely recognized bush to indicate a tavern, from which is derived the proverb "Good wine needs no bush". In some cases, such as the bush, or the three balls of pawnbrokers, certain signs became identified with certain trades and some of these later evolved into trademarks. Other signs can be grouped according to their various origins. Thus, at an early period, the cross or other sign of a religious character was used to attract Christians, whereas the sign of the sun or the moon would serve the same purpose for pagans.
In 1389, King Richard II of England compelled landlords to erect signs outside their premises. The legislation stated "Whosoever shall brew ale in the town with intention of selling it must hang out a sign, otherwise he shall forfeit his ale." This was in order make them easily visible to passing inspectors of the quality of the ale they provided (during this period, drinking water was not always good to drink and ale was the usual replacement). Later, the adaptation of the coats of arms or badges of noble families became common. These would be described by the people without consideration of the language of heraldry, and thus such signs as the Red Lion, the Green Dragon, etc., have become familiar, especially as pub signs.
Large towns where many practiced the same trade, and especially, as was often the case, where these congregated mainly in the same street, simple signs of a trade signs did not provide sufficient distinction. Thus a variety of devices came into existence; sometimes the trader used a rebus on his own name (e.g. two cocks for the name of Cox); sometimes he adopted a figure of an animal or other object, or portrait of a well-known person, which he considered likely to attract attention. Other signs used the common association of two heterogeneous objects, which (apart from those representing a rebus) were in some cases merely a whimsical combination, but in others arose from a popular misconception of the sign itself (e.g. the combination of the leg and star may have originated in a representation of the insignia of the garter), or from corruption in popular speech (e.g. the combination goat and compasses is said by some to be a corruption of God encompasses).
Whereas the use of signs was generally optional, publicans were on a different footing from other traders in this respect. As early as the 14th century there was a law in England compelling them to exhibit signs, for in 1393 the prosecution of a publican for not doing so is recorded. In France edicts were directed to the same end in 1567 and 1577.
Since the object of sign boards was to attract the public, they were often of an elaborate character. Not only were the signs themselves large and sometimes of great artistic merit (especially in the 16th and 17th centuries, when they reached their greatest vogue) but the posts or metal supports protruding from the houses over the street, from which the signs were swung, were often elaborately worked, and many beautiful examples of wrought-iron supports survive both in England and continental Europe.
The signs were a prominent feature of the streets of London at this period. But here and in other large towns they became a danger and a nuisance in the narrow ways. Already in 1669 a royal order had been directed in France against the excessive size of sign boards and their projection too far over the streets. In Paris in 1761 and in London about 1762-1773, laws were introduced which gradually compelled sign boards to be removed or fixed flat against the wall.
For the most part they only survived in connection with inns, for which some of the greatest artists of the time painted sign boards, usually representing the name of the inn. With the gradual abolition of sign boards, the numbering of houses began to be introduced in the early 18th century in London. It had been attempted in Paris as early as 1512, and had become almost universal by the close of the 18th century, though not enforced until 1805. Another important factor was that during the Middle Ages a large percentage of the population would have been illiterate and so pictures were more useful than words as a means of identifying a public house. For this reason there was often no reason to write the establishment's name on the sign and inns opened without a formal written name—the name being derived later from the illustration on the public house's sign. In this sense, a pub sign can be thought of as an early example of visual branding.
During the 19th century, some artists specialized in the painting of signboards, such as the Austro-Hungarian artist Demeter Laccataris. Pending this development, houses which carried on trade at night (e.g. coffee houses, brothels, etc.) had various specific arrangements of lights, and these still survive to some extent, as in the case of doctors dispensaries and chemists shops.
Pictograms are images commonly used to convey the message of a sign. In statutory signage, pictograms follow specific sets of colour, shape and sizing rules based on the laws of the country in which the signage is being displayed. For example, In UK and EU signage, the width of a sign's pictogram must be 80% the height of the area it is printed to. In the US, in order to comply with the ADA Accessibility Guidelines, the same pictogram must be located within its own defined field, with raised characters and braille located beneath the field.
For a pictogram to be successful it must be recognizable across cultures and languages, even if there is no text present. Following standard color and shape conventions increases the likelihood that the pictogram and sign will be universally understood.
The shape of a sign can help to convey its message. Shape can be brand- or design-based, or can be part of a set of signage conventions used to standardize sign meaning. Usage of particular shapes may vary by country and culture.
Some common signage shape conventions are as follows:
- Rectangular signs are often used to portray general information to an audience.
- Circular signs often represent an instruction that must be followed, either mandatory or prohibitive.
- Triangular signs are often warning signs, used to convey danger or caution.
Below is a list of commonly used materials in signmaking shops.
- Aluminium Composite Panels
- High-density polyethylene (HDPE)
- High-density polyurethane
- Polyvinyl chloride (PVC)
- Polypropylene, Styrene, and other thermoplastics
- Medium density overlay panels
- Modular Curved Frame Technology
- Corflute (Corrugated Plastic)
Below is a list of commonly used processes in signmaking shops.
- CNC Routing
- Laser Cutting
- Abrasive blasting
- Printmaking, Screen printing, or sign painting
- Channel lettering
- Vacuum forming
- Steam Welding, Rolling
- Laminating Prints
Signs frequently use lighting as a means of conveying their information or as a way to increase visibility.
Light-emitting diode (LED) technology is frequently used in signs. This technology, first used primarily at sporting events, later appeared at businesses, churches, schools, and government buildings. Brightness of LED signs can vary, leading to some municipalities in the United States banning their use due to issues such as light pollution. Today, LED technology is also used in light panels to illuminate advertising graphics in public places including malls, subways, and airports.
- The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (Fourth ed.). Houghton Mifflin Company. 2000.
- Random House Kernerman Webster's College Dictionary. K Dictionaries Ltd, Random House, Inc. 2010.
- Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged. HarperCollins Publishers. 2003.
- Manton, Dafydd (2008). Ale and Arty in Sheffield: The Disappearing Art of Pub Signs. Sheffield, England: Arc Publishing and Print. ISBN 978-1906722005.
- David W. Dunlap (17 October 2013). "Tracking 'Privilege Signs' as They Vanish". New York Times. Retrieved 17 October 2013.
- Haas, Cynthia Lea (1997). Ghost Signs of Arkansas. University of Arkansas Press. p. 19. ISBN 9781610751698.
- O'Toole, Lawrence (2012). Fading Ads of Philadelphia. History Press. p. 103. ISBN 9781609495435.
- ""Little" LED billboards, big nuisance". Chicago Reader.
- Recommendations on the Transport of Dangerous Goods: Model Regulations. New York: United Nations. 2005. ISBN 978-92-1-139106-0.
- Sutton, James (1965). Signs in Action. London: Studio Vista. OCLC 456695324.
- Wenzel, Patrick (2004). Signage Planning Manual: Planning Aids for the Design of Pedestrian Signage Systems. Hünstetten: P. Wenzel. ISBN 978-3000128646.
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