Signage Sam: Which Direction Should Vertical Text Go?

Signage Sam, answering questions about signs and designs

Signage Sam: Which Direction Should Vertical Text Go?

When it comes to text on vertical signs there are no rules but some important considerations, says Australian sign expert “Signage Sam”.

Dear Sam,

I am a graphic designer. Lately I have been designing a lot of vertical banners for street poles and have over the years designed and recommended various vertical rigid signs including 3D signs for cafés and restaurants.

When my clients ask, “which direction should my logo go, should it read read up or down?” I feel like an imposter because, to be honest, I don’t know. I just confidently tell them what I feel looks best, and of course I say it with an air of authority as if I know what I’m talking about!

Sam, you have had more than 20 years in the signage business – what do you say?

– Feeling Guilty, Melbourne

Dear Feeling Guilty,

You know what? I can empathise with your feelings of guilt. Why? Because I have done the same for 20 plus years! I’ve battled with this question continuously.

My advice  is to treat each project separately and once you (yes you) are happy with your design, confidently justify your reasoning by explaining that signage is easier to read (especially when it is placed above the eye line) from the bottom up rather than top down. It’s often easier to initially see the bottom of the sign and read up. Finding the top of the sign (which may be obstructed a building, other signage, trees or the glare of the sun) then re-focus and read down, is often more difficult.

If the sign is viewed from above, for example from a floor above, then top down is often easier to read. This is less common but worth considering especially in multi-level shopping centres. If in doubt consider where most of the passing traffic is. If the most traffic is on the lower level, than bottom up is preferred. As we regularly write about on this blog, we often only get a couple of seconds to identify a shop or specific building so it is important to make it as easy as possible to grab attention.

You may  get some smarty telling you that the text on book spines run down, but I reckon this is because if a book is placed flat on a table, the spine and cover are read left to right. Anyway, books aren’t signs – signs have different rules to print as they are viewed from further away.

Also, don’t get confused by what you see in America, a lot of external vertical signs are in the US are based on the old theatre signs which have ‘stacked’ letters placed on top of each other, often depicting the name of the theatre eg Majestic, Eastman, The Grand, Embassy etc. Compare these names with the words ‘picture theatre,’ which would definitely be easier to read bottom up. There are issued with stacked letters as the varied width of the characters can make vertical spacing look uneven – this is a separate discussion for another time.

There are no set rules, back yourself, offer your recommendations as you are the professional your client has engaged.


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