Signage Sam: Sign Design Advice

Signage Sam, answering questions about signs and designs

Signage Sam: Sign Design Advice

Signage Sam offers sign design advice to a business owner who has limited space but wants to maximise the impact of his sign.

Dear Sam,

I own a small business on a main road with high traffic flow. The local council requirements limit the maximum area of my signage to just 2 metres high x 1 metre high. I want to promote my shop to the passing traffic but need to know how to make the most of the limited space to get the most impact. Can you give be some advice on the best colours, layout and fonts to use?

Steve, Sydney


Hi Steve,

No doubt you are aware of the term “less is more?” Well nowhere does this term apply more than to signage design! You say you are on a main road so I can assume the majority of you passing customers are in motor vehicles? This is an important consideration as you need to be aware of how much time a person in a moving vehicle has to identify your business from the rest. You should drive past your shop and put yourself in your customers’ shoes to get a better understanding of the current and potential viewing opportunities and also any hindrances.

There are a number of unknowns here such as competition from your neighbours signage (see previous blog) or if there is a traffic build up out the front of your shop, which would be a bonus, as potential customers will have longer to focus on your shopfront.

Whatever the current situation there are some basic design principles to follow:


This is what sets the main element set from other related information.

Example: main element – FISH & CHIPS, related elements – website, phone number. Remember, you only have the viewer’s eyes for a couple of seconds so the most effective contrast can be achieved by using the right font and colours and the best use of ‘negative’ space.


The most common mistake in choosing a font style is choosing too many. This adds to inconsistency of the message and is also difficult to read. Try to use the same font but contrast this by changing its size, style and weight.

Avoid fonts with confusing serifs. Serifs are the little ornaments or strokes at the end of the letter (Sans-serif font, Serif font). Most shop owners want too much information on their signage, remember the initial objection is to get the viewers’ attention!

For example, have the main element in a large bold san serif font, as this the headline. Secondary information (related elements) should be in a smaller  san serif font but not bold. 


Choosing high contrast colours helps the sign grab attention and get read quickly. Obviously black on white is maximum contrast  but even if your neighbour has predominantly black and white on their sign you can also contrast the background by using an oval or rectangle behind the main element. Adding another contrast element does not clutter the sign by including more colours or unwanted text.

Whatever combination of colours you use, do a test print and view this from the precise position your customers’ with be viewing from. For example, the use of green text on a brown background may look acceptable on a computer screen but viewing this combination from 30 metres away will become a brown blob of colour. Once again, put yourself in you customers’ shoes.


The best signs manage the balance between positive and negative space. A perfect example of this is the ancient Yin and Yang symbol – the negative space gives context to the positive space. Don’t fill the negative space with additional text and graphics, eg pictures of fish for a fish and chip shop, this will overwhelm the reader and discourage reading the information on the sign.

The objective is to identify your business and get customers to contact you. Once you have a positive connection the rest is up to you!

Good luck,


Signage Sam, answering questions about signs and designs

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