Picking the Right Shop Front Signs
For centuries, signs have been what makes or breaks a shopkeeper’s business. Although you don’t have to rely on signs anymore to convey important information as business owners did in the days before widespread literacy, signs are still very important. They share your business’s name, purpose, and why customers should go in.
Every detail on your shop front signs, down to the serifs on the font, should be keyed toward attracting as many customers as possible. With so much pressure on picking the right sign and designs, many shop owners falter. Here is a guide that can help you make the all-important decision.
Types of Signs
To compete for attention in the shopping district, you probably need more than one sign. Having multiple signs means that potential customers coming from different directions and perspectives will still spot your business. Multiple signs also give you the opportunity to get creative while still maintaining a coherent visual identity.
Here are a few of the most common types of shop front signs. For most of these signs, you will not have complete freedom in choosing what they look like. Many local councils regulate business signage, particularly if you are running a shop in a historic area subject to conservation regulations.
Fascia signs are probably the most common type of shop front sign. The fascia is the border area between the shop windows and the rest of the building. Most of the fascia is located on top of the windows, between the shop and any residences on upper floors.
Fascia signs are an important characteristic of the traditional British shop. For decades and even centuries, shopkeepers painted signage on the area above their windows. Your building may even have some of the original fascia signage in place, in which case local conservation ordinances will probably direct you to leave it alone.
Before changing your fascia signs, check with local ordinances to see if there are any regulations for businesses in your areas. Some councils limit the number of fascia signs you can have as well as the depth, material, and design if you are in a historic area.
Fascia signs are important because they draw the attention of the viewer directly down to the shop below and catch the eye of people looking at the shop from across the street. However, fascia signs are not the best at attracting people walking on the pavement directly below, which is why businesses combine them with another type of sign.
Another way that businesses attract attention from passersby is with hanging signs. Hanging or projecting signs are signs that jut out from the building and hang out over the pavement. Hanging signs are another traditional form of signage that’s been popular among UK shopkeepers for centuries.
Hanging signs tend to be smaller and squarer than fascia signs, giving your business more space to incorporate an artistic design, such as a logo (fascia signs tend to be only text). Hanging signs are also better at attracting people walking directly in front of your shop who may not notice the fascia sign at all.
Before installing a hanging sign, double-check local building regulations or council orders. Some local governments regulate the size, placement, and even design of the hanging signs. Choose the right professionals when installing hanging signs. The signs should go in an existing console or bracket when possible and not attach directly to the masonry as it can damage historic structures.
How do you attract customers who only look at their feet? Put signage at their level, of course. Foldable sidewalk signs are an innovative way to attract attention. You can choose between traditional signs or chalkboard signs.
Sidewalk signs give you greater flexibility compared to more permanent hanging and fascia signs, particularly if you are using a chalkboard sign that you can rewrite daily. You can update your signs depending on your specials or use them to share a cheeky message that will attract customers. You can even have special signs just for when you have sales.
As with other types of signs, you must check with local regulations before putting out a sidewalk sign. Many councils restrict business signage to the direct forecourt area in front of a shop (if there is one). If the pavement in front of your shop is too narrow, then you may not be allowed to put up a sidewalk sign at all if it would block the flow of pedestrian traffic.
These are the most common types of signs, but they are by no means the only signs that shop fronts can have. Other common signs include wall-mounted signs above a window or door. Many businesses that don’t have a fascia do this to share the business name.
Window signs are also common, particularly for upper floor businesses that want to differentiate themselves from shop fronts on the ground floor.
There are also signs that deviate from traditional painted materials, such as neon signs.
Which Signs Are Right for Your Business?
Usually, the combination of signs that is right for your business is dictated by the architecture of your business and any local ordinances. For example, if you have a fascia in place, it would be a shame not to use it for signage. Local governments may also have regulations around how many signs you can put up and which types you can use, particularly if you are in a historic area.
Even if there are no regulations constraining your signage, you should use the regulation of common sense. One or two signs are enough to ensure that your business is visible, along with any special temporary signage you may want to put out (such as a sidewalk sign announcing a sale). Any more signs than that will look cluttered.
Once you’ve decided on the type of signs that you want for your shop front, you need to choose a design. Consulting with a professional designer is probably the best idea since the visual identity of your business is pretty important, but you should still have an idea about what you want so that you can express it to any professionals you are working with.
Here are some things to consider when coming up with the design for your business.
Your gorgeous sign will not be of much use if your potential customers can’t actually read it. Legibility and clarity are the most important components of your signage.
The first step in creating a legible design is being careful not to overcrowd the sign. Keep it simple, using only your business name and maybe a logo. If your shop name is too long, use a shortened form for the sign, or make the main part of your name the focus while writing the rest in a smaller font. A good rule of thumb, particularly for fascia signs, is that your lettering should not take up more than 75% of the space. Negative space is key to helping customers read your sign.
The other component besides brevity is simplicity. Ornate fonts are fun to look at, particularly if you are looking into a quasi-historical effect, but they can be quite difficult to read. Choose simple, legible fonts without many flourishes or curlicues.
You can impress your customers with the creativity of your shop’s visual identity in other ways, such as your logo or packaging material. The priority for the sign is for them to be able to read it.
It doesn’t just matter what you say on your signs, it matters what you use to say it. The materials that you use for your shop front signs are important because they can help your message stand out. The right materials will also be durable enough to withstand rain and other weather conditions—you don’t want your sign fading after just a few months.
If you are operating a shop in a historic area, local conservation rules may govern which materials you can use. Many historic districts only allow signage using historically accurate materials such as timber, metal, and glass. You can also get away with artificial materials that look like those traditional ones, but shiny plastics and metals are often banned.
Even if you don’t have conservation constraints around the materials that you use for signage, the right material is still important. If you are going for a retro or historical look with your overall shop front, then an overly modern material such as plastic will stick out too much. On the other hand, a retro timber sign on a high street full of modern glass and metal fascia signs will look out of place.
When choosing your material, make sure that it is durable and appropriate for outdoor signage. You want customers to be able to find your business for a long time to come.
Another important component of designing your signage is the typography or scripts. As mentioned above, your primary concern is that your sign is readable, so don’t get too carried away with whimsy when selecting a font. However, that does not mean that your sign should be boring.
Your choice of font can convey important things about your business to your client base. For example, a bold business deserves a bold, block-lettered font, while a more whimsical shop atmosphere is well-served with some (legible) cursive. Before committing to a sign, you can use online services to try typing out your business name in different typographies to see which ones you like best.
If your shop front is in a historic area, you might have constraints on which scripts you can use as well. To promote a coherent visual image along a parade of historic shops, many conservation governing bodies require that all businesses use similar scripts. Check with local regulations before hiring a sign that has the wrong font.
Besides the format of the script, it’s also important to choose how the lettering will be applied to the sign. Traditionally, signs are painted, and some historical areas require modern signs to be painted as well. In more modern high streets, you can install raised letters directly onto the fascia or façade, engrave a metal sign, or experiment heavily with how you want to display your sign. Just be sure that there is enough contrast between the writing and the background.
Your signage doesn’t have to be just text. Some artwork can also help draw your customers in. Displaying your logo on the signs or adding a fun thematic border is a great way to create visual interest in your shop. You would also be following the great tradition of using pictograms on signs to attract customers, which predates written lettering since most people historically couldn’t read.
However, be careful when adding design touches or artwork to your sign so that it does not overwhelm the most important part, which is the information that you want the customers to read. You do not want your sign to get too cramped. On fascia signs in particular, which are long and narrow, a logo might make the sign look too busy.
The right colours on your store front signs can help attract more customers to your business. The key when picking out your colour scheme is cohesion. Ideally, you want to develop a singular visual identity across all platforms, including your website, packaging material, and business cards. All of your signs, from the fascia signs to the moulding on your storefront, should be the same or similar colours.
If you are designing your entire colour scheme from scratch, pick colours based on the emotion you want to evoke in your audience. For example, if you are running a shop selling handcrafted soaps, choose cool colours that relax the audience.
If you are using two or more colours, make sure that they are complimentary. Clashing, garish colours will take away from the professionalism of your business.
Once you have your design vision for your store front sign down, you still need to consider a few practicalities when making your signs.
You need to strike a delicate balance when it comes to choosing the size for your signage. You want it to be big enough for people to notice it, but not so big that it dominates the façade and looks garish.
In some localities, particularly historically valuable properties, there are conservation rules about the maximum size of the signs. This is done to preserve the historical character of the place and to prevent large signs from structurally damaging the facades. For example, many building regulations dictate the maximum height of the fascia to give some breathing room to upper floors and prevent the store front from swallowing the whole façade.
Once you have the size of the sign as a whole, you need to decide the size of the lettering within it. As mentioned above, be sure to leave plenty of empty space around the top, bottom, and sides of the lettering for legibility. Letters that are too large also look cramped and don’t make your shop front look inviting.
An often-forgotten aspect of designing signs is the lighting. You want people to be able to read your signs even when it is dark and cloudy (which in Britain, happens often).
Some signs are completely made of light, such as neon signs. Neon signs have been out of style for decades, but can still add a fun retro touch to a window display. Before investing in neon signage, double-check local regulations as some municipalities ban neon (leaving the lights on all night may disturb your neighbours).
Even traditional signs need some illumination, particularly if the business is open late and wants to attract customers to the shop front after dark. Discrete spotlights that can be mounted onto wall signs and fascia are a great way to draw attention to your signs even when it is dark. Often, you can conceal the wires in the same installation bracket that you used for the sign.
As with any aspect of store front signs, consult local regulations before adding lighting to your sign displays. Some areas, particularly villages and historical communities, have dark sky ordinances that prevent night lights altogether to protect nature. Other local councils have regulations regarding the strength of floodlights and spotlights to prevent businesses from disturbing neighbours. Try to use low-energy lights when possible to keep from disturbing your neighbours and racking up the electricity bills.
How to Choose a Shop Front Sign Design
Your shop front sign is often the first thing that potential customers see when they scope out your business. Choosing the right design is key to attracting a steady customer base, so a legible font, tasteful colour scheme, and simple design is key.
Besides attracting customers, you also want to maintain good relationships with your neighbours and local governing bodies. Before installing any signage, check local regulations on the size and placement of signs as well as any design limits in place to preserve the historical character of the area.
Considering changing up your shop front? find out more here