Opening Statement

Leesburg Restaurant Sign DesignThe definition of a sign is “a motion or gesture used to express or convey an idea, command, decision.” In the case of this article, you are either a Loudoun business or a Loudoun organization that are using signs to convey a message to help influence a buying decision, or to attract attention to an idea or an event. To do this effectively, signs should adhere to certain principles that will help your success in messaging.

This article focuses on the following aspects of sign creation: Types of Signs, Common Mistakes, Design Parameters, Your Audience, Proper Messaging, and the Creation of Signs. By the time you finishing reading this post, you will have a greater understanding of what makes signs more effective.

Signs can be made locally, or ordered online. Examples are provided at the conclusion of this article.

Types of Signs

Signs come in all sizes, shapes and materials. They can be square, rectangular, oval, or have an irregular shape. Sometimes the shape of a sign can determine how effective it is. Signs can also be made of many different types of materials, including wood, Mylar, metal, digital and more.

Each type of sign offers certain benefits, therefore, consideration should be given to placement and where the viewer may be seeing it (there is more information on this topic later in this article).
For example, if the sign is outside, it then needs to be weather durable. When ordering signs, the seller often provides information on it’s durability and rating, in addition to cost and turn around times.

Common Sign Mistakes

If you adhere to basic principles, your sign can be incredibly effective. However, the inverse is also true; a poorly designed sign may be completely ignored.

  • A sign likely won’t be effective if:
  • It can’t be seen effectively
  • It contains too much information
  • Lacks an action to be taken
  • Incorporates bad design
  • Has poor color choices
  • Has bad placement, or is too small for the viewing position

To avoid these common sign mistakes, keep the following facts in mind:

You must carefully consider the placement and location of a sign. If it’s too far away to read, the message won’t received at all. We advise that you position yourself from the perspective of the viewer, and consider the sign size. The lettering within the sign must be readable for the viewer. Will the viewer be walking by? Driving by? Inside of your establishment? Eye level? Placed high above?

According to data by the International Sign Association: “Experts recommend designing signs with letters a minimum of one-inch tall for every twenty-five feet of distance”. If your sign text is too small, it can’t be read effectively.

tradeshow column signIf the sign is to be placed outside, what is the background of it’s placement? On a building? Freely hanging from a bracket? Will it’s color compete with it’s surrounding? Can it be seen at night? If the sign is to be placed inside, will it compete with other effects from the building? Does it need to be eye-level? The answers will depend on your unique situation.

Signs should be designed with simple, uncluttered messaging. Having many fonts and too many words will make for an ineffective sign. Studies suggest that at least 30% to 40% of the area should be left empty. Doing so allows the viewer to consume your message quickly.

Sometimes your logo or company name is sufficient. But if you want the viewer to take action, then one must be presented. Do you want them to call you? Visit your website? Use their phone to scan a QR code? If so, then those actions need to be clearly presented and visible.

Incorporating bad design can cause the message to be completely ignored. Being a Loudoun graphic design firm, of course we are going to recommend hiring a professional designer like us. However, you can always design your own sign using good principles. We speak more about this later in the article.

Color choices within your signs are also critically important. There are design principles that can be used to assure the attention you are seeking. Choosing poor colors can make your sign hard to read, or blend into the background. There are a set of common colors that should be considered when designing a good sign. Keep reading to learn more.

Effective Sign Design

It is recommended that you adhere to your brand colors, when possible. Doing so helps to reinforce your company or organization brand, and result in a lasting memory of the message.

The use of an image within the sign is recommended, but it should be done effectively. You don’t want the image to compete with the message, but compliment it instead. The image could be your logo, or a symbol that helps to reinforce the message within the sign. It is appears in the background, consider making the image have a transparency factor. If the image is off to the side, it should be done in simple terms; not being too big or too small. Contrast is a good feature, but it all must work together. Consider having a friend or colleague reviewing your design to provide constructive feedback.

The use of negative space is critically important. As mentioned above, 30 to 40% of the sign should be negative, or empty space. This helps to draw the viewers eye to the message within the sign itself.

Data regarding the use of borders on the perimeter of the sign is mixed. Several research firms suggest that it increases sign effectiveness by 25%. However, sends a different message by insisting that signs without a border is 11% more effective. The jury seems to be out of this particular design component. We suggest taking each sign into account based on its placement, the viewers perspective, and the message itself.

There are sets of sign colors that have been determined to be most effective. While you want to adhere to your brand colors as much as possible, the color combinations below should be considered for maximum contrast and readability. They are listed from highest to lowest in terms of effectiveness:

  1. Black on yellow
  2. Black on white
  3. Yellow on black
  4. White on blue
  5. Green on white

Fonts used within signs are equally important. As mentioned previously, you should only use one or two fonts within your sign. The use of three or more fonts can cause the viewers eyes to “glaze over”, and potentially missing your important message. Again, keep your company brand in mind and use fonts from your logo. You should consider the use of a mix of capital letters, and lower case letters. Doing so make your message easier to read.

The time in which folks can comprehend your sign and message is relatively short. Therefore, your sign titles should be brief and contain only three to five words, written rather large. Some research indicates that viewers will only spend eight seconds reading a sign. Other research says this may be as little as only three to five seconds.

Know The Audience You Are Trying To Reach

Understanding or defining your audience type will also help to drive the design style for your signs. As with most graphic design projects, you need to know what type of customer you are trying to communicate with. What are the age ranges for your customer? Are they most male, or female? Are they local to your establishment, or are they visitors from other places?

Once you know who you are targeting, then you can design for that group specifically. For example, a flowery sign design may not work well for most men. A “loud” sign design may not appeal to older customers. Potentially, an older crowd may not use QR codes, while a young group likely will. Color choice can also be an important factor here. Carefully consider the group that you are messaging.

Ordering Signs

Like many residents of Loudoun County, Virginia, we like to support local businesses when we can. Below are a couple of local sign producers who print or manufacture signs for many uses. Below that you will find online businesses who also produce signs for every need.

Mr. Print, located in Purcellville and in Middleburg, Virginia, offer various types of printed signs including yards signs, printed signs, and more. Wicked Design has used the services of Mr. Print for many projects, and can vouch for their services.

Sign Design in Purcellville, Virginia creates hand-carved and hand-painted wooden signs for nearly every need. You can see their work all over the county in terms of property signs seen from the road.

For ordering signs online, we have used for several projects. We usually refer to this company for large and unusual projects. Their quality products can be seen on our clients businesses across the Loudoun County, and beyond. Delirium restaurant, located in Leesburg, Virginia is a good example of this. We designed all of their signs can are seen attached to the blue building in the middle of town (we also recreated the famous elephant logo used on those signs.


Wicked Design has created hundreds of signs for businesses and organizations since 2012, and we can do the same for you. Contact us should you want to discuss a sign design for your business or organization.