Numbers Game

I suppose all of us get a bit rusty in math once we’re out of the classroom for good. And I, like most people, have retained only what I actually use of the things I once studied. Fortunately, running my own business, and having to measure and fabricate signs and so forth, has kept me from becoming completely inept in math skills.

But I think that some of my customers, in their various occupations, must have been away from math for a bit too long. Long enough to forget everything they ever learned about algebra, geometry, and even simple arithmetic.

Arithmetic? Yes, that’s what we called it back when I was a youngster. And it’s even simple arithmetic that seems to be neglected by many out our clients. I know this by listening to some of the things they say about their signs.

Our clients say things like: Can you make me a sign, about 3ft by 3 ft in size, and put my company name on it 8” tall, and five more lines of copy about 6” tall? I need it to be read from the other side of a four lane highway.”

I hate to play the roll of elementary math teacher and have to explain why you can’t have five lines 6” tall (30”), and one line 8” tall on a 36” high sign. It seems silly to need to have to convince them that 38” vertical inches of lettering won’t fit on a 3ft tall sign. Not to mention having to remind them that it is common practice to put a little space between the lines of text as well. (Did they never notice that before?)

Applying numbers as dimensions is another problem area for some of our customers. For example, I’m always amazed and amused that so many people think signs are never larger than a 4x8ft sheet, or something like that. Why, a client may lease a building and call about needing some new faces for the sign out in front of his place, and even though he parks near the sign in question everyday, and the thing is half again bigger than his pickup truck, he still thinks it’s “about a 3 by 4 ft sign.” Hmm, a foot is still only 12 inches, isn’t it? I hate to having to remind them of that.

Just the concept of numbers is hard for some to grasp. People seem to believe that numbers are just funny shaped words, instead of mathematical symbols. They believe that if a sign maker makes a phone number on a sign especially large, people will memorize it instantly. With rare exceptions, numbers just don’t work that way. Making a number larger doesn’t make it a more memorable, but the valuable space that’s lost could be used to make a much more effective sign. That’s a tough concept to grasp, but I usually give that explanation a try anyway.

Perhaps the problem with my clients, and the American public in general, isn’t that we’re just not good with numbers anymore, but that we are constantly exposed to so many of them. So many, in fact, that we become mathematically and numerically desensitized.

Years ago, about all we had to remember was our street address and maybe a phone number or two. And those phone numbers were five or six digits, like old Junior Samples’, “BR-549”.

Today the phone numbers are long as your arm, and you still don’t get the person you’re calling. You get a computer telling you to punch in more numbers. And who can remember all of them?

We all are constantly having to recite and remember cell numbers, fax numbers, credit card numbers and so forth. We don’t just have just street addresses; we have e-mail addresses, maybe several of them. And passwords. Oh, those darned passwords!

Perhaps it’s to be expected, that living in a digital age when numbers are used for everything, we actually have forgotten that they were originally created for the purpose of doing simple math. And simple math still has its place, especially in the sign shop.

But thank goodness, it’s pretty simple math. Because, though I get amused at the confusion my clients show over numbers, I’m no Einstein myself, that’s for sure. No, numbers aren’t really my strong suit either (just ask my accountant!).

Hopefully, you’re doing a lot better with the math around your shop, and perhaps so are your customers. This may mean that you actually know one thing that I’ve never learned, and that is a work week is equal 40 hours, give or take a few. That’s the one mathematical equation I’ve never been able to master. Which means I’d better get back to work out there, or my workweek is just going to get longer and longer.

Have a great month,
---Rick