A quick trick for more powerful layouts

By signcraft

Posted on Friday, October 13th, 2023

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Bob Behounek, Berwyn, Illinois

Ever wonder why some signs have so much more impact than most of the others? It’s because the designer used the basic design principles that have proven to increase a sign’s effectiveness. One of those principles involves deciding what is the sign’s primary message and what is the secondary or supporting copy. Another principle involves knowing how to emphasize the primary message.

A viewer can only read one message at a time. Most only take the time to read one message before deciding whether to continue reading the rest of the sign. As a sign designer, you want to make sure that they get that primary message first.

In his Design Clinic feature in SignCraft, Bob Behounek shared a little-known, time-tested way to make sure that the primary message gets read and gets read first. The secret is knowing how much of the total sign area to devote to this essential message.

Two-thirds for the primary copy

Bob says to allow approximately two-thirds of the sign’s total area to the main message. He learned this guideline as a young apprentice from the late Ken Millar, the well-known sign designer and instructor at the union school in Chicago. Majority rules, and the primary message should get most of the total area of the sign.

And it’s true. It doesn’t matter how appropriate or cool the typeface that you chose for the primary copy is or how interesting the graphic is if it isn’t given the majority of the space on the sign.

At first that may seem like a lot of real estate to take up for just a few words and maybe a graphic. But in reality that primary message is the most critical part of the sign. If readers miss that, all is lost. By devoting two-thirds of the sign to this message, you are taking the first step towards ensuring that most viewers will get that essential message—then continue on to read the secondary information.

If the sign is for informational rather than advertising purposes, this formula doesn’t always apply—the primary copy may get only half the total area. But much, if not most, signage is meant for advertising.

You’ll see this principle in much of the highly effective sign work you see  on SignCraft.com. Take a look at these signs and see how the main message gets most of the space.


Braun Bleamer, Jet Signs, Palmerton, Pennsylvania

Dan Antonelli, KickCharge Creative, Washington, New Jersey

Kevin Wright, Wright Signs, Adrian, Michigan

Lane Walker, Solo Signs, Reno, Nevada

David Showalter, David Design, Bryan, Ohio

Marjorie Corbett, Pine Island, New York

Bob Behounek, Berwyn, Illinois