How to Make an Effective Sign: Purpose and Design

Signs basically have three main purposes: 1) give direction and location, 2) branding and 3) take an action. For example, a roadside sign for a taco truck might have an arrow, the logo of the business and “Tacos Two for the Price of One. Today only!” This accomplished all three purposes in one sign: direction, branding and a call to action.

So, the first principle of sign design is to know your purpose. A stop sign, for example, has one goal: get the driver to stop. There does not need to a logo of the city or state. Stop. That’s it.

A sign on the building of a new business might just have the logo of the business, as the goal is to give location and enhance the brand. A sign in a window might just say, “Inventory Reduction Sale.” Take action. Buy our stuff.

Keep the content to a minimum.

This is where most do-it-yourself sign designs fail. Less is more. The less you have, the more salient your main points can be. They can be bigger, bolder and not be encumbered by surrounding text or graphics.

Your sign is not your business card.

If the sign is a call to action; that is, “buy this now,” you don’t need your email, website and business address, assuming the viewer is already in your store. Make a clear purpose and avoid anything that does not contribute to that purpose.

Avoid unnecessary graphics.

The goal of a sign is not to win a graphic design contest. The goals are to give direction, branding and take action. There is no need to clutter your sign with unnecessary and distracting graphics.

Go with high contrast.

Gray letters on a brown sign are a guaranteed way for no one to be able to read your sign from afar. Red letters on yellow? Perfect. Black, red, white and yellow have excellent contrast with most colors if set in the proper content. Here are some failsafe combinations: black text on white or yellow; red text on white or yellow, yellow background with dark blue, red or black text, and white text on black or red or dark blue.

Size matters!

If you want people to read your sign from afar, your letters need to be big, the bigger the better. All things being equal, two inch, high contrast letters can be read from 30-50 feet; three inch letters from 50-75 feet. Print out a few letters at and attach them to the location of the sign and see how far you can move away until they are difficult to read. You can almost never go wrong with bigger, as opposed to smaller text. The same is true for directional arrow and company logos.

Kona Impact has made signs for business all around the Hawaiian Islands: Kauai to South Point, Hawaii Island. Most of our work is in the Kohala and Kona areas of Hawaii Island. If you have a sign idea in mind, give us a call at 808-329-6077.

Here, by the way, is how NOT to design a sign:

bad-sign-design