One of my favorite marketing books is Paco Underhill’s Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping. It’s focused on retail but contains insight on consumer behavior that I’ve been drawing from for years.

One of the first chapters – one that really stuck with me – is about signage. Underhill wrote, “Showing me a sign in a conference room, while ideal from the graphic designer’s point of view, is the absolute worst way to see if it’s any good.” When the owners of Spaah, my day spa client in Bloomington, requested that I design building signage based on my recent logo redesign, I kept this advice firmly in mind. 



Spaah faces east along a major artery of the city, Walnut, with one-way traffic going north. That means most drivers’ eyes see Spaah from the south at a sharp angle rather than straight-on. That makes the main sign on the front of the building hard to see, unless you’re bored during a red light at the intersection and happen to turn your head 90° left.

Because of this, we needed very clear signage on the south side of the building. I chose a type of sign that is durable enough to face the elements, as opposed to being inside and somewhat hidden by the building’s tinted windows.

The front of the building is still important, of course. Unfortunately, a small tree blocks the view of the main sign for drivers and pedestrians facing the building while going west on the cross street, 10th.


Thanks, tree.

When going through then intersection, however, you can see the main sign for just a second before passing the building. Sure, you can see the sign from some other vantage points, but even when you’re standing in front of the building, the sign is high above your head. So where some businesses with better visibility conditions might display their website address or phone number, I chose to simplify and maximize the font size, keeping just the new Spaah logo on the main sign, and “Day Spa & Massage Therapy” on the windows just below. This was also acceptable because of Spaah’s SEO. Anyone Googling “Spaah” will easily find the right business.



So here are some takeaways when designing outdoor signing.

  • Stay on brand. Your brand’s design should extend to outdoor signage for consistency. Hopefully you chose an easily readable typeface for your logo and copy (because no design in any format is effective if it’s hard to read).
  • Keep the real world in mind. Where will actual people see this sign? At an angle? In poor lighting? Will they have to crane their necks? Keep all these constraints in mind when you’re designing from the comfort of your Macbook.
  • Simplify. Next time you see a McDonald’s billboard, notice how few words are used. Probably less than six. People just don’t spend much time looking at signs. Fewer words mean less time is needed to read the sign and get the message.
  • Size. The font size used on billboards is staggeringly huge. The larger the font, the more readable it is from farther distances. Check out this handy chart for optimizing visibility of signage.
Designing Signage for the Real World
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