How to Buy an Electric Sign?
Part 1: Deciding What’s Right when Choosing Signage
On any given day, our project managers are working on a variety of sign types. I walked through our Chester shop and among the many projects in production, I noticed a set of custom channel letters for a church, an internally illuminated pylon sign for a shopping center, a wall cabinet sign for a hair salon, and a fairly large electronic message center for a hospital all being assembled.
The processes by which these various sign types were specified for particular projects is complex, and in my mind, not part of the typical selling approach of the average sign shop in Virginia.
There are 4 basic questions we ask customers in the preliminary design stage of a sign. Leaving any unanswered can lead to ineffective sign solutions:
- What is your desired image?
- What is your “budget”?
- What fits best with the building, the neighborhood, and the local code?
- How do you determine placement and size considering viewing distance & sight lines?
LOOKS ARE EVERYTHING
The response to the first question concerning overall image has to be extremely unique. After all, shouldn’t your site stand out over everyone else on the block? Keeping in mind that you only get one chance to make a first impression, it’s important to spend extra time pondering an effective sign design.
Quite often in small organizations, the owner, general manager, pastor, or whoever is in charge of the site being branded, is the brand and the signage could be designed to reflect his tastes and personality. In larger, more structured organizations, the brand may be more thought out. For example if an organization’s branding statement is, “We are part of our community,” then perhaps a sign matching the style of the community that integrates a digital component able to post community events under a fresh and inviting sign with the company’s logo would be the best answer to: “What is your desired image?”
Sometimes it’s initially difficult for our clients to perceive the sign type that’s best for them. When contemplating new digital signs, we frequently ask customers to list a few nearby signs they like and a few they dislike, and reasons why. Exercises like this help our project managers brainstorm sign designs that will fit their client’s tastes.
Part 2: The Budgeting Process
Dave Elmore, the owner of Bookkeeping and Management Systems in central Virginia, says he has over 300 business clients and not a single client has a line item for signage. We often put quotation marks around “budget” when discussing the word since, more times than not, our customers have only vague ideas of what an effective custom electric sign costs. And especially one equipped with a high-tech electronic message center! The most important question sign buyers need to answer before they come up with a budget is: “What is needed to get the job done?” From this starting point one can determine the specifications for the most effective budgeting for digital signs.
Once the customer has an idea of what would get the job done, cost can be determined. Then you can budget for it, and if appropriate, let any groups or departments who have to help pay for it know how much and why.
Also, since most applications of digital signs produce revenue, you should consider the positive impact on operating budgets. Daniel Dern representing TechDecisions, addressing the business needs of management in corporate, education and worship markets, was correct when he said, “Depending on the nature of the project, the deployment of new digital signage may end up replacing, reducing, or avoiding other expenses, perhaps even costing less than previous activities, or even be a revenue generator. Or the signage may have less tangible but still valuable benefits in ways that can’t be measured in ROI.”
We have seen companies divide sign purchases across multiple budgets. A hospital client for instance considered splitting the cost of a new digital message sign between its facilities and marketing budgets to make it work. Many retail customers who advertise across multiple media channels sometimes place digital sign purchases in their operating versus capital budgets, making a purchase possible by reallocating funds from other lackluster advertising categories for better results. A good example is how clients have reallocated Yellow Pages and other non-productive advertising dollars into new digital signage for much greater ROI.
If an actual budget number is discussed as a max spend, our project managers usually tailor the best solution based on someone’s budget restrictions, but that doesn’t always mean it’s the best solution for the site. Don’t just look at equipment cost alone when shopping for digital signage. It’s more about what type of equipment and supporting signage and structural design fit best, based on image, visibility, usage, and many other factors. We think the best approach to purchasing a sign is making a comprehensive assessment of all the factors, designing the signage based on that assessment, and coming up with price parameters to provide the best solution possible.
Part 3: Environment
GETTING NOTICED IN A POSITIVE WAY
Environmental graphic design is a unique field within our industry – sign designers, landscapers, engineers, architects, welders, painters, masons, carpenters, installers – that collaborate to create amazing sign projects that work in generating business while blending in with the environment. Well-designed signs have the power to move people to appreciate a business and even change a person’s behavior. A person previously prone to passing a certain business is suddenly inspired to turn in!
So how do you stand out and blend in at the same time? Decisions, decisions…
It’s not too hard to stand out. I’ve met a few marketing consultants who are occasional fish-tie wearers when they need a gimmick to be remembered. And we too have actually built a huge bass fish sign for a commercial client wanting to make a statement at the entrance to their development, so I’m not knocking the big fish idea. It’s just that generally speaking, most people aren’t so flashy and usually for good reason. The hard part is coming up with good sign solutions that blend corporate statements into surrounding environments.
MORE THAN JUST HANGING A SHINGLE
A business site has to secure a strong, competitive position in order to prevail. Your building location, and how you promote it, is crucial to the ultimate success of your business. Signs make lasting impressions that work; whether they are positive or negative is up to you.
You just can’t just throw any old sign system together and expect results. A sign purchase is important and should be well-planned. I recommend working with a reputable, established sign company whose project managers understand your unique site branding and advertising goals and the many variables working against you in reaching them.
Here are some basic questions your sign consultant needs to ask specifically about your site:
- What fits best with the building or neighborhood?
Are elements of the building’s architecture reflected in signage design and embellishments?
-Colors: Historic, Colonial, Architectural, Natural?
-Building Materials: Brick, Stone, Concrete, Stucco, Painted Metal?
-Pitch of roof: Flat, Peaked, Slanted, Domed?
-Special Features: Columns, Quoins, Cornices, Window Design Elements
- What fits best in both daytime and nighttime viewing?
What type of lighting will work best for consistent 24-hour branding?
-Dimensional Letters and Shadowing Factors?
-Digital Signage Options?
- What works throughout all seasons?
- What does code recommend and allow?
Part 4: Sign Viewing Distance & Sight Lines
DOWN TO A SCIENCE
There are reasons for selecting certain sign products, and the best solutions can only be accurately estimated once you determine what’s best for your particular site. Our approach to selling signs is a process. Throughout what usually ends up being a series of meetings, our project managers educate customers about effective sign design, asking important questions to “scientifically” develop each sign proposal.
Two important sign design considerations in choosing the right sign for your site are:
- What’s the best height relative to the roadway elevation and obstructions?
- What’s the optimum sign viewing distance from the road?
STEPS TO MAXIMIZE VISIBILITY:
1. Determine Obstructions
First, you need to determine any viewing obstructions that could prompt raising the overall height of your sign. Crowded visual environments detract passers by from reading low-to-the-ground signs, so elevating signs can enhance their visibility in certain areas. Sometimes, simply because of a low grade, you have to elevate a sign just to get it in the proper sign viewing zone for motorists. In cases where signage fronts interstates or other high speed thoroughfares, the higher the sign the better for maximum exposure.
2. Chart your Visibility Zone
Once you determine the right height, you need to map out your “sign visibility zone.” The optimum visibility zone is in the area where the line of sight drawn at 45 degrees from the sign in each viewing direction intersects the center of the roadway extending back to a place on the highway within the driver’s cone of vision without visual obstruction to a point where the sign can be designed to maximize the local code.
3. Design Your Sign
After you have figured out the maximum line of sight, you need to plan the minimum letter height for readability from that distance. (As a general rule of thumb, calculate about 1 inch of letter height for every 36 feet of sight distance based on average letter contrast and 20/20 vision on a clear day.) Keep in mind that LED-lit signs actually have a greater visibility distance at night and LED message signs have better readability 24 hours a day because of the sign brightness. In addition to sign height and letter height, other factors like viewer reaction time, viewer reaction distance, color contrast, and negative space also play a part in the overall scientific sign design for optimum visibility. Now you can design an effective sign sized correctly, designed for best contrast and readability, maximizing code to do the best job of turning traffic into customers.
Part 5: Sign Prototypes & Demonstrations
The following examples are how we have used sign prototypes and demonstrations and involve some of the most technically challenging situations and why they were a necessity. But even when selling the more typical sign projects like electronic message centers for a church, or a set of channel letters on the front wall of a local retailer, there are benefits of smaller scale demos and mock-ups.
Here are three reasons for considering sign prototypes and demonstrations:
- ENSURING VISIBILITY
- HISTORIC ACCURACY
- COST CONTAINMENT
The location and entrance of a client’s medical complex was hidden from the main highway. They needed help with signage that directed people to their site for services. Because of the elevation of the property and high speed of passing traffic, a sign raised substantially off the ground was their best bet.
Utilizing a weather balloon, we aided our designers and client in gaining a clear picture of just how the sign would appear from the roadway. Our customized demonstration indicated the best heights and bearing points necessary to reach the most traffic.
When owners of an historic Virginia hotel began redevelopment, they needed to make substantial energy improvements to obtain HUD funding. We had to make sure the proposed new energy-efficient signage was historically accurate.
The old landmark sign was rusting away. The lighting once used to illuminate its gigantic letters was the old incandescent type. There were some 1,400 light bulbs per side that regularly burned out and there was always a big safety concern involved with changing them.
Our creative solution replaced old incandescent bulbs with low-voltage LED lighting that looked historically correct by using modern digital printing technology. We demonstrated prototypes prior to final manufacture. Collaborating with the owners, architect and general contractor we tweaked the digitally printed bulb designs and LED lighting placement to where all parties were satisfied with the effect.
Cost containment is a big benefit of using prototypes for signs, especially for high-rise applications. From our experience, we know it’s best to get it right on the ground before committing to build the whole thing.
We provided a Gen 1 Prototype based on the original design specifications. After critically viewing the first version of the illuminated corporate logo from the ground, a team of senior executives immediately wanted it taken down and redesigned. Both the lighting and framework were redesigned and a Gen 2 Prototype was prepared. Before this could be approved for production, a final Gen 3 Prototype was ordered because the client re-designed their logo.
Even with the extra cost in the early design stages, utilizing prototypes trimmed more than 50% off material, labor and fuel costs that would have been incurred had the three design changes been worked out later in a high-rise environment.
If you liked this case study, here are some more: