The History of Signage Design

According to a well known online encyclo…pedia (wink wink), signage can be defined as any type of visual graphic that has been created to display information or convey a message to a particular audience. While that’s all very well and good for giving a broad description of signage today, we want to know where signage actually came from?

Old shop signage

How it was first used in comparison to today and what were the signs originally made of? Today we’re going to look at the first emergence of signage when man supposedly first learnt to express himself artistically, to the expertly designed shop signage by 4site Implementation and others.

While a true history of signage may not necessarily be possible, we can take a great deal of information from what we have. For instance, the history of signage as we know it, dates back to the times of the Greeks and Romans. We’ve learnt from certain archaeological studies, the signage used during those times, was generally made from stone or terra cotta.

As opposed to the great amount of text we see today, the signage was based heavily on imagery. They very often depicted images that related to the business, tavern or workshop they sat outside. One of the most famous uses of signage however, is the work of the early Christians who used the cross to establish meeting places. Likewise, pagans used the sun and the moon.

Commerce Changes The Game Of Signage Design

As commerce began to expand, signs changed hugely. In fact in 1389, King Richard III passed a law that meant any business or establishment that sold ale had to have a sign outside stating the fact. The initial signs were very practical. They were no-frills and simply stated the fact but it didn’t take long for logos to appear which included lions, shields and other more commonly used symbols of that time.

It was at this point that businesses began to realise that their signs could actually help them stand apart from their competitors. The more elaborate they were, the more attention they drew. Gradually, signs became more bold and flamboyant in a bid to stand out, being made from wood, wrought iron and even gold leafing.

Signage Moves Into The Modern Day

Enter the 18th Century and new technology began to shape the modern day signage we see today. Thanks to the industrial printing press, electricity and gas lighting, businesses and artisans had what felt like endless options. They began to see how creative they could actually be and just how this creativity played a pivotal role in attracting customers.

Fast forward to World War II and the time of mass production, plastic improvements and larger quantities of signage made an appearance. Changeable signs entered the scene and gave businesses everywhere the chance to mix up their messages using just one single sign.

New signage

Technologies continue to improve daily which means so too do the abilities of 4site Implementation; a signage designer, production and installation company. Just one glimpse of their signage design gallery online shows you the magnitude of their capabilities within the signage industry and just how far we’ve come from terra cotta based imagery.

Signs are still one of the most effective ways of communication and from what we can see, will remain that way for many years to come.


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