Architectural Signage:  Does It Really Matter What Signs We Use?

Dillon Cobb
APCO Signs
September 9, 2021

Sales within the architectural sign industry is as much about educating customers on the importance of signs in general as it is discussing the benefits of working with a specific product or company.

Do Signs Really Matter?
When I tell folks I work in the sign industry, the usual response is, “Wow, cool…you mean like billboards, road signs and neon?”

Most people have a general understanding and appreciation of signs that advertise a commercial business or identify your next exit from the interstate, but when it comes to architectural signs  or this nonsense called “wayfinding”, eyes generally glass over. Do those signs even matter?

Architectural Signs
Commercial/Retails Signs
After 27 years in the industry, it still blows me away that even some within management roles at very large facilities pose this same question. Why is it that flooring, doors, fixtures, office furniture and wall coverings matter but somehow signs are an afterthought? Just like all those other elements of commercial environments, signs are right there in your face every day. They send an instant message about your company’s brand and image. And more importantly, they serve the important role of guiding folks throughout the space. Imagine navigating a hospital, airport or any large facility with no signs at all. So yes, architectural signs matter!

Does it Really Matter What Signs We Use?
So, if there’s at least a basic understanding that signs matter, what elevates signage beyond the level of a general commodity? Why not just go with the cheapest solution or low bid? What distinguishes a good sign system from a bad?
(Arguably, what sign company you choose is more important than the products themselves, but we’ll save the APCO sales pitch for another time…)

1. Design
Starting with the obvious one, right? Design…or how a sign looks. Maybe it’s just one of those things where you don’t know how bad something is until you’ve been exposed to something better? Regardless, the truth is that ugly and/or poorly designed signs instantly communicate a negative image about your facility.
2. Functionality / Long-Term Serviceability
In any environment where there’s growth or change, signs should be relatively easy to update with new messaging. Otherwise, signs won’t be kept up to date, or even worse, staff will take it upon themselves to make their own message updates. In either case, the overall purpose and look of the sign program will be diminished quickly.

Piecemeal Updates Destroy a Sign’s Image and the Initial Design Intent
Modular Functionality Enables Easy Updates and Ongoing Aesthetic Consistency
3. Planning & Wayfinding
This relates more to which sign company (or designer) you choose versus the products themselves, but the quality of the planning and wayfinding, including ADA compliance, can most definitely set one sign program apart from another.

No matter how good a sign may look, if it’s not part of a cohesive family of signs that are properly directing people within a space, it’s not doing its job! Poor wayfinding will not only cause frustration for the user, but depending upon the circumstances, can potentially be a matter of life and death.
As mentioned earlier, there are other variables that distinguish good signs from bad, but these three rank high on the list.

At the end of the day, regardless of which sign company or sign products you choose, please place value in the role signs play within their environment and consider your business’ image before making any purchasing decisions. Signs matter!