Weary travelers along the nation’s highways seldom cared about the name of the business…they were just looking for a motel. Now, travelers might be looking for Marriott or La Quinta, neither of which let you know they are motels or hotels by their corporate business name.
These images came from the 1951 edition of Herb Agnew’s Shop Notes. In a small town market, the product is often more important than the name. Contrast between the lettering, along with legible characters, is often very important. Big chain stores can often get away with just displaying their corporate name—such as Lowe’s, Staples and Costco.
Often, especially in small towns, people can get a good idea of the type of business by simply evaluating the architecture. This old Teton Theater in downtown Jackson Hole “looked like a theater”. It has recently been renovated to a pizza parlor. They kept the old building façade and historic Teton sign, but use changeable letters on one of the reader board strips to identify their business. The place is busy despite the unorthodox signage. The business gets plenty of foot traffic on the busiest street in town.
As long as the main message is easy to read, home town business signs can still have complex designs. In historic tourist towns, signs can reflect the architecture and character of the town. These signs by Roger Cox, House of Signs, Frisco, Colorado, are good examples.

Branding for local businesses vs. corporate ID

By Mike Jackson

Posted on Tuesday, January 2nd, 2018

Local businesses need easy-to-read signs that are descriptive of the goods and services. In many cases, they can be very creative, but they still need to be easy to read. Think of it like a vo-tech sign class. The instructor might look at a submitted project and give it a “D” for impact and legibility. It might have been well crafted and beautifully lettered, but if the letters are too weak and there isn’t enough contrast, the project essentially fails.

Unfortunately, “failure” signs abound. In almost all communities, they are mixed in with the successful corporate signage and mixed in with some of the top notch local signage. Some of the failure signs are creative. Some are well executed. Some fail because the sign maker used all the “tricks of the trade”, yet forgot the number one requirement—make the main message legible and impactful.

Helping the client get the picture As I mentioned earlier in my Gunbarrel example, the client can be a major factor in the ineffective signs. Some signs can be perfectly legible, but don’t supply enough information. I like to suggest to the client that they first forget everything they know about their business. Then I ask that they think like a new tourist passing by. If that new tourist viewed their sign, would it get the message across?

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Mike Jackson

Mike and Darla Jackson operate Golden Era Studios in Jackson, Wyoming, and do a variety of sign-related projects. Mike’s website is www.goldenstudios.com. His email address is golden@goldenstudios.com. You can see more of Mike’s photos at www.tetonimages.com and www.goldenstudios.com.