Advertising & Marketing

Designing for Success: Essential Tips for Planning Effective Business Signs


The history of outdoor business signs dates back to ancient civilizations, when merchants would use symbols to advertise their trade. Exterior business signs have always played an important role in bringing commerce and communities to life.

Kenneth Peskin, the Director of Industry Programs at the International Sign Association, is a fourth generation professional in the sign industry, with family ties to the design of the famous Arby’s cowboy hat sign. We recently chatted with him to learn more about what some of the enduring fundamentals of what makes a sign a “success.”

For thousands of years, it was widely understood that symbols conveyed the kind of business-- from the twin snakes for a doctor to the comedy and tragedy masks for a theater. Early outdoor business signs were not just functional; they were also works of art, often elaborately carved or painted to catch the eye of passersby. As time progressed, advances in materials and advancements in technology led to more sophisticated visual solutions. In 1882, the first electrical sign appeared in London, marking a luminous leap forward.

When the 1900s dawned, the United States welcomed the era of illumination with neon lights revolutionizing the industry and creating a new era of nighttime exterior sign advertising. Today, business signs have evolved into a perfect blend of art, technology, and marketing, serving as a critical component of a business’s identity.

Where to start with creating business signs?

Before you begin to think about the design of your exterior business sign, it's essential to have a vision for what your business stands for and what kind of customers you want to attract. Your sign should reflect your business's brand personality and message you want to convey. Whether you're going for a sleek, modern look or a more traditional vibe, consider logo, color scheme, and the emotions you want to evoke. Here are just a few tips to consider when planning your exterior business signs project.


1. Prioritize Visibility and Readability

Your sign's primary purpose is to attract and inform potential customers, so visibility and readability are paramount. In a recent, national opinion poll, 72% of people said signage would interest them to check out a place with which they were not yet familiar.*

Consider elevation and the exterior of a building as well as the size of the letters, the contrast between the text and the background, and lighting. They all play a role in how easily your outdoor business sign can be read from a distance. During the design phase, mock-ups can be created by your graphic design team for assessing how your sign will look in different lighting conditions and from various vantage points. Additionally, consider how your sign will integrate with the surrounding environment and community to ensure it stands out without clashing.

“As sign designers, we are often guiding people to consider bigger letters and economize their type,” shared Peskin. “We encourage a movement toward fewer words with clear images that speak to what they’re trying to convey. Ideally, sign makers want to direct the eye with effective and attractive communication - even when not using words to explain the message.”

Today, business sign experts can incorporate AI driven technology and software analyzing tools that use heat mapping, quickly revealing where a viewer's attention will land. This is particularly useful for exterior business signs, when design can become more effective with attention analytic for maximum visibility, messaging and branding.

2. Think: Permitting/Local Signage Regulations

One of the most crucial steps in planning for your business exterior sign is to recognize the role of local zoning laws and sign regulations. Regulations can dictate the size, placement, and sometimes even the lighting of your exterior business signs. Bypassing regulations can result in costly fines or the need to redo your signage. It's smart to consult with a sign professional, such as FASTSIGNS®, early in your planning to ensure you meet local requirements.

When Walker Lumber, a construction and building supply contractor in Nashville, wanted to rebrand their new facility, the management of the permitting process was undertaken by FASTSIGNS, which played a huge role in bringing the striking exterior business signs to life in a sprawling environment of five acres and 13,000 square feet of warehouse and lumber yard.

Permitting hurdles were overcome as Walker Lumber brought their rebrand to life.

Large exterior signs required extensive engineering and assistance with permitting that had to be approved by the city. On behalf of the customer, FASTSIGNS submitted exterior sign drawings to a city engineer and worked closely with a licensed electrician to secure approvals. Another useful tip: when planning for a sign that includes electricity, having a sign expert to assist throughout the process can make the process smoother. The new visual communication and sign package elevated and enhanced visibility for Walker Lumber, resulting in a 20% boost in business.

3. Remember Project Management: A Real Value-Add

Executing a successful signage solution involves more than just hanging signs around a business. There are many moving parts in the process. A sign expert can take your project from concept to completion and navigate the potential pain points on behalf of the customer.

When the Washington State Department of Transportation wanted to transition their headquarters from outdated WWII barracks to a look that embraced the future of transport, they looked to an expert who could manage the project’s intricate details, including color specifications and permitting. From creating signage that drew inspiration from the architectural design of the building to installing ADA and compliance signs, the collaboration between WSDOT and FASTSIGNS transformed the site into a modern space that embraces the identity the customer wanted to project of a future-forward transportation enterprise.

Modern visual sign design drove transportation forward for the Washington Dept. of Transportation.

4. Choose the Type of Sign Right for Your Location

There are numerous types of exterior signs to choose from, each with their own set of advantages. Consider factors such as visibility, durability, and maintenance when selecting the type of sign for your business. The right choice will depend on your location, weather conditions, budget, and the nature of your business. Here are some modern applications and materials that are being used today and will continue to make appearances in the coming years:

  • High Density Urethane (HDU) is a type of material that can be printed, cut, routed, painted, sandblasted, and even 3D-routed to look like wood, brick, stone, etc. It’s resistant to rotting, warping, insects, mold, and water.
  • Aluminum Composite (ACM) is extremely popular for exterior business signs now and can be printed, cut, V-Cut to form bends. It withstands any weather extreme, can last over 10 years or longer, and comes in custom finishes as well brushed metal and solid colors.
  • LED lighting for channel letters and cabinets signs
  • Textured Surface Vinyls across walls, walkways, are available in both temporary and permanent applications
  • Environmentally Friendly Materials are becoming more popular. Eco-friendly materials include material that emulates the look of bamboo, cedar and other high-end natural woods. Recycled plastics are also becoming more popular and vendors are offering a wider assortment of options.

The Significance of a Well-Planned Business Sign

Signs are a visual magnet that attracts interest to your business, ranking right up there with the potential to motivate your target audience. In fact, those surveyed* said that eye-catching signage is as likely (47%) to make them want to check out a new place as a recommendation from family and friends (49%). While visual solutions are a simple and cost-effective way to elevate visibility, they actually have the added power to generate interest in a way that’s equally as valuable and efficient as other marketing activities.

MBF Entertainment made their street corner the talk of the town

Invite customers to get to know you by creating the perfect exterior business sign. Think about how your outdoor business sign can turn into a beacon for customer traffic while continuing the proud tradition of exterior business signs as a work of art and foundation for a savvy business.

The sign experts at FASTSIGNS can help plan your next business sign project and reinforce your brand’s unique personality and visibility.

*National Opinion Poll of Adults 18+ conducted by FASTSIGNS