6 exterior signs that communicate a strong message.

Even in the Internet age, when many people are likely to first see your business online, your sign is important. It tells the world what you do, and it gives clues to how and why you do it. People in search of brand-name eyewear may well look for the same sign they’ve grown accustomed to seeing in every mall. People who want something a bit different? Ah, they’d probably be intrigued by this sign, at right, from France.

European shops have sported whimsical, wordless signs for centuries. Some trend-setting practices in the U.S. are doing the same, as you’ll see here, but these symbolic signs work best on busy city streets with a lot of foot traffic. If your business relies on being seen by people driving by, you’re better off with a sign that can be read from afar and leaves no doubt what you do.

Some good rules for signs: Use one bold color against a contrasting background. A logo, icon or other graphic touch can make your sign more memorable, especially if you use the same illustration across all your branding. Keep your sign readable. (You probably don’t want to use wacky fonts unless that’s part of your brand strategy. Again, quirky city retailers can get away with weirdness more easily than a suburban optometrist.)

Finally, consider a reader board with changing messages below your main sign, or a sidewalk chalkboard sign if you rely on foot traffic. You can use that space to advertise a promotion, thank a local hero, cheer for a sports team, or make wry or funny comments (but steer clear of politics). The recent McDonald’s “signs” ad campaign featuring local messages beneath the Golden Arches drew mixed reviews, but it showed how signage can humanize and localize even one of the world’s largest corporations. And people will take photos of clever messages, which means free advertising for you all over social media. — JULIE FANSELOW

This article originally appeared in the March 2015 edition of INVISION.

Time Frame exterior signage


Time Frame, San Francisco, CA

When San Francisco-based Rare Eyewear opened its Time Frame storefront specializing in high-end vintage eyewear, watches and jewelry in 2012, owner Curtis Hawes wanted a sign that conveyed its speciality, and also one that would stand out on a bustling block in the city’s Mission District. Alaska artist-optician Frances Scholz had just the thing: this spectacle-themed sign reminiscent of European optical shops, with a rich gold tone that blends beautifully with the warm colors of the storefront. It even has an on-trend-again keyhole bridge.

Eye Gallery exterior signage


The Eye Gallery, Ypsilanti, MI

“We wanted simple yet beautiful,” Dr. Arnold Bulos says of his store’s fine-arts inspired logo, which he developed with noted graphic designer Steven Driscoll Hixson. The storefront — which Hixson calls “the most playful and captivating extension of the brand” — features a white-on-black illuminated sign and frosted white glasses on the window, which adds “high impact to street visibility and brand recognition. They aren’t selling hot dogs in there,” Bulos says.The logo and signs help give this Vision Source-affiliated practice a strongly individual look.

Fine Eyes exterior signage


Fine Eyes, Ridgeland, MS

The town of Ridgeland was master-planned to look old, so Fine Eyes owner Cleve Barham used the strict rules as an excuse to evoke the sign on a jewelry store (with an optical department) his grandfather owned in Clarksdale, MS. Clarksdale Jewelry had a clock with a pair of glasses below it, “but I did not have enough space to do both,” Barham says. “I had my sign custom made by a local guy who does iron work. I gave him a picture of Oliver Peoples (OP-10) from their original catalog and told him to get close to it. It turned out great, but we ran into a problem mounting it to the building: They had to drill four rather large holes into the building and put large bolts over a foot long each into the inside of my store. I think I could swing on the sign.”

Eyes on Fremont exterior signage


Eyes on Fremont, Seattle, WA

When Nate Ogura bought Eyes on Fremont, he inherited a beast of a sandwich-board sign that has stood outside the shop since it opened in the mid-1990s. Painted by local artist Billy Davis, the sign has no name on it, but its size — it’s 6-1/2-feet tall — and evocative visual (a hand holding a large capital E in front of a somewhat mysterious face) helps people find their way. “We tell people look for the tall orange sign because they can see it driving by,” Ogura says. “Two downsides: Since it’s so big, it’s kind of a pain to move in and out every day, and it blows over pretty easily when it’s windy.”

Goo Goo Goggles exterior signage


Goo Goo Goggles, Victoria, BC

Located on Victoria’s funky Fort Street and specializing in independent and vintage eyewear, Goo Goo Goggles has both a wonderful neon sign in its window and three hand-painted signs hung over the sidewalk. The signs were made by a customer and friend who works in theater set design. Together with colorful window displays and the shop’s very name, the signs are apt to make people grin and perhaps stop in for a look at a shop that vows to “save Victoria and beyond from a life of boring glasses, help you not pay more than you need to, and help you make the best decision for your eyes.”

Monarch Bay Optometry exterior signage


Monarch Bay Optometry, Dana Point, CA

Monarch Bay Optometry is in a shopping plaza, so it needed a sign that could be seen across the parking lot. But there’s plenty of foot traffic at the Monarch Bay Plaza, so Dr. Irene M. Lin-Dilorinzo wanted pedestrians to get the message, too. The result: Bold red capital letters spelling OPTOMETRY can be seen from afar, while people walking by up close see “Family Vision Care” and “Fashion Eyewear” on the practice’s windows. A monarch butterfly in a circle on both the main sign and the window complete the look.


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