hand-crafted signage

Your Tuesday Tip: Working Through Customer Expectations to Deliver the Perfect Sign

Steven Vigeant owns Berkeley Signs, a commercial sign company serving the San Francisco Bay Area since 1985. Visit his Web site at BerkeleySigns.com or contact him at Steve@BerkeleySigns.com.

*Please click images below to view slideshow.

The Growlers’ Arms is a gourmet pub/restaurant in Oakland, California.

At first contact with the client they presented me with a design that looked like a British pub sign featuring some “poker dogs” enjoying a growler full of drink. At some point, the owners seemed to lose confidence in me and the dog sign because I didn’t realize that a “growler” doesn’t actually have much to do with dogs. At this point I’d already received a sizeable deposit and I became very alarmed when they called to tell me “that they just didn’t think you get it.”

The solution to this sort of heart pounding problem, which I’ve experienced before with other panicky clients, is to not take it personally and gently push back with professional confidence. And say, “I’m sorry that this is making you nervous, but I will do everything in my power to make this right. I can assure you that I always come through, and I won’t be satisfied until you are thrilled with the results.” The key is to deliver this message with total unwavering confidence until you can make good on the cure. And then immediately address all of their concerns in person.

Initially I was hoping to have some influence on the anthropomorphized dog art “as a sign.” Combining sign sales with graphic designs done by others can turn out to be very touchy and time-consuming indeed. I don’t like to make waves if the client has already approved something, and in this case the whole design was called into question and eventually went unused. Nevertheless the client agreed that the lettering could use some improvement so I resorted to a trick that has worked well with other choosy clients in the past. I introduced them to a good font picking website like Myfonts.com and have them look for what they like. I then recommend that they type in their name so it will appear in the many fonts offered. Sometimes they quickly discover exactly the right one, but other times I suggest that they give me a list of 4 or 5 so I can weigh in on it. Either way they can have fun working out their aesthetics on their own, which saves me time.

Once the Growlers’ team found its font, I plugged it into a variety of sign panel designs from Mike Jackson’s Golden Era Design collection. I then worked up a PDF with numbered sketches to choose from. I included so many because I had actually lost my feel for what they had in mind by “you know, an old time pub sign that you would see in the UK somewhere.” I was reassured when one of the sketches seemed to work for them. I refined the favored choice by digitally collaging together bits and pieces of compatible clipart from the Golden Era catalogue until I was satisfied that I had a unified design to show the client.

And now if you please dear reader, I’ll dispense with any further article flourishes and concentrate on the important step-by-step technical details that may be of some use as you follow along with the numbered pictures.