So, your lead salesperson comes into your office and sits down at your designated “communication station”—an old, rickety hard-backed folding chair you found in a storage closet. Cold, metal and uncomfortable by design so that well-meaning co-workers don’t sit and visit too long. You exchange the usual morning niceties as they sort their papers and ready their pile of notes for the verbal design request you are about to receive.
But, as you do on occasion, just as they are about to speak you put your hands up and cover your ears while saying “La-la-La-la” because you know that this is the job you heard about in the sales meeting earlier this morning. It’s a very big monument for the newly renovated shopping mall west of town.
So what’s the big deal? The big deal is the management partnership. They have an art director who won’t listen to reason, and doesn’t understand the rules of design and function as it relates to monument signage. It’s now going to become your job to design a monstrosity of a sign, with too much going on, and a difficulty-to-build factor of 10. You will do your best to design something that this art director will agree with, but for that you will have to do your best to keep it clean and readable, even though you know it won’t be. What are the rules for creating a monument sign that isn’t too cluttered and yet is still buildable, and serviceable? What are the effects on the cost of the monument to have this many EMC’s when one will do the job?
Of course, the design request presented to you is just as you expected it would be. They want a 40’ monument sign but with three individual double-face electronic message centers, or EMC’s, along with the usual tenant cabinets, anchor store panels with full color logos and the name of the mall.
Ground Rules for Monument Design
What are the rules for designing a monument sign and why doesn’t it work to have lots going on? How many EMC’s are considered too many? Is there any merit to creating a visually invasive structure that has too much “Vegas Feel” when it is not appropriate? How does the city feel about a massive structure with three EMC’s?
The rule of thumb for designing monument signage is the same as it is for all forms of advertising—less is usually more effective than more. In the case of a monument sign, the result of visual clutter can have a very negative affect on the image that is being presented to the public. A cheesy life-size concrete deer placed in the middle of the yard in front of a million dollar home would not convey the right message as to what is inside of the house. It can actually hurt the curb appeal of the house, making its value appear less in the mind of the buyer. The same can be said for a cluttered mess on a monument sign.
The Purpose of the Sign
What is the need that the sign must fulfill? Is it for providing tenants with a way to let the public know that they are there or is the shopping center itself the focus of the signs message? Is it the message, or the structure that is supposed to attract the most attention?
Architectural and artistic features can bring the eye to the structure and create an emotional response by the use of color, shape and design as exemplified the monument sign built for the Dadeland Mall in Miami Florida—designed by 505Design in Boulder, Colorado. The sign structure is dynamic and attracts the eye of the viewer all by itself. This photo is a good example of a sign’s structural, architectural presence and the impact it has on the viewer. It is a piece of artwork; a sculpture, a centerpiece for the center. As you can see the name of the center is prominent, but not dominant.
This elegant monument sign with LED lighting was created for the Dadeland Mall in Miami Florida. Design elements balance well. It was designed by 505Design and fabricated by Integrated Signs & Graphics. (Images courtesy of 505Design)
Engineering a Multi-EMC Sign Nightmare
When monuments are designed, the designer must take into consideration not only the visual weight of the sign components, but also the physical weight of the sign cabinets being presented. Monument structures need to be well planned so that engineering requirements don’t inadvertently restrict access to service panels. This means every attachment point of the EMCs and every cabinet must have adequate access for both installation and servicing, and that takes planning, and understanding of the structure itself. Planning ahead to involve engineering early can help save you hours of revisions.
How Many Signs are Too Many?
When designers attempt to design a sign, they must always consider all of the above scenarios, otherwise they risk being cluttered, and difficult to fabricate, and service. Unfortunately, rather than spotlight another designer and fabricator’s existing work in a negative light, I can easily demonstrate this concept by way of a quick drawing I have created. Notice how cluttered and heavy this design feels. Forget about the 3 EMC’s and the visual busy-ness that creates, the message of any one individual tenant tends to get lost in the clutter. The EMC’s are heavy looking and will create a sea of visual distraction from the advertising opportunities.
As shown here, too much is not better. The EMC’s individual messages get lost amongst the clutter of the tenant panels. Logos used only complicate the situation.
The construction of this design would also be quite a feat of engineering. The structural bracing and internal attachments would require additional cabinet depth and unique access points that would add significant costs.
Stand Your Ground (When you Can)
Yielding your design sword can be either productive or destructive in the eyes of the customer. Maintaining a positive approach to illustrating a concept that works while still being buildable is the key. You may not be able to convince the customer that too much is not good. You will however have to convince them that buildability must be recognized, and that aspect alone may be your saving grace to steering the customer in the right direction.