Blog Millionaire and Other Studies Document the Value of Signs

An article written by Steve Aust for the May 30, 2017, Cima Network newsletter cites Blog Millionaire research and two other studies that document the value of signs. One Blog millionaire study cites the on-premise sign as having been the way 50% of new customers found a business. The next most-effective method (33%) was word of mouth. The second Blog Millionaire study indicated 85% of a business' customers live within a five-mile radius and would see its on-premise sign an average of 60 times per month.

The article also cites a California study that compared the CPM (cost per thousand) of TV, newspapers, billboards and the on-premise sign with a $16,500 budget. Because the first three media could only display their messages for a month, their CPMs ranged from $1.65 to $13.20. Assuming the on-premise sign would last for 12 years, its cumulative CPM would be $0.13.

You can read the full article at 

National Academies Releases Nighttime Overhead Signage Luminance Levels

The National Academies Press has issued an 80-page report entitled "Guidelines for Nighttime Overhead Sign Visibility." It includes a chart that's headlined "Luminance Levels for Overhead Signs." It lists five different visual complexity levels, ranging from a dark rural area to a commercial downtown district. It then suggests minimum luminance levels in terms of candelas per square foot and square meter. The suggested brightness levels at the most complex setting are 10 times higher than for the rural setting.

You can download the entire report at

Texas/Pennsylvania DOT Studies Says Clearview Font Improves Sign Legibility

A study conducted jointly by the Texas and Pennsylvania Departments of Transportation concluded that the Clearview font increased the visibility distance for drives by 12% versus the existing Series E Modified font. 

In 1994 the Federal Highway Administration determined that highway signs were no longer visible enough for a population that included older drivers. Over the next decade, the Clearview font was developed. Subsequently, the Texas and Pennsylvania DOTs conducted separate studies to see how effective the Clearview font was.

The full report on this font can be found at 

Should Signs be Regulated as Lighting Devices?

The answer is a very clear "no." An article in Signs of the Times magazine explains that electric signs are not lighting devices, per se. Their purpose is not to provide light, but to provide messages. Thus, they should not be regulated as lighting devices. Electric signs need to be bright enough to be legible, but if they're lit too brightly, then they become less legible. Thus, the sign industry has consistently provided electric signs with appropriate brightness, in order to serve their customers. The article explains these factors in much greater detail. You can read the entire article at    

What has the Federal Highway Administration said about Off-premise Electronic Message Centers?

The 1965 Highway Beautification Act established federal guidelines for off-premise signs (billboards) located within 660 feet of federal highways. When "changeable Electronic Variable Message Signs (CEVMS)," (typically called electronic message centers, or EMCs, in the sign industry), began to become more commonplace, individual states began to establish agreement (Federal/State Agreements -- FSAs) with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). Terms like "flashing," "Intermittent" and "moving" were used in an attempt to describe the CEVMS.

In hopes of establishing more standardized criteria, the FHWA's Office of Real Estate Services, on July 17, 1996  "issued a memorandum to Regional Administrators to provide guidance on off-premise changeable message signs."

The FHWA states, "The policy espoused in the July 17, 1996, memorandum was premised upon the concept that changeable messages that were fixed for a reasonable time period do not constitute a moving sign (emphasis added). If the State set a reasonable time period, the agreed-upon prohibition against moving signs is not violated. Electronic signs that have stationary messages for a reasonably fixed time merit the same considerations."

Then, more than a decade later, on September 25, 2007, the FHWA issued a second memorandum, called "Guidance On Off-Premise Changeable Message Signs." It begins by saying "The purpose of this memorandum is to provide guidance to Division Realty Professionals concerning off-premises changeable message signs adjacent to routes subject to requirements for effective control under the Highway Beautification Act (HBA) codified at 23 U.S.C. 131. It clarifies the application of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) July 17, 1996, memorandum on this subject."

It then states, "Pursuant to 23 CFR 750.705, a State DOT is required to obtain the FHWA Division approval of any changes to its laws, regulations, and procedures (emphasis added) to implement the requirements of its outdoor advertising control program. A State DOT should request and the Division offices should provide a determination as to whether the State should allow off-premises changeable Electronic Variable Message Signs (CEVMS) adjacent to controlled routes, as required by our delegation of responsibilities under 23 CFR 750.705(j)."

It then suggest standards for the timing between messages and the dwell time for messages.

"Based upon contacts with all Divisions, we have identified certain ranges of acceptability that have been adopted in those States that do allow CEVMS that will be useful in reviewing State proposals on this topic. Available information indicates that State regulations, policy and procedures that have been approved by the Divisions to date, contain some or all of the following standards:

  • Duration of Message
    • Duration of each display is generally between 4 and 10 seconds - 8 seconds is recommended.
  • Transition Time
    • Transition between messages is generally between 1 and 4 seconds - 1-2 seconds is recommended."

How is the Size of Signs Measured?

The most common restriction in sign codes concerns the size of signs. This includes such considerations as the "setback," (distance away from the road), the height and the dimensions of the sign itself. When the sign is a rectangle, and the copy fills it,  it's easy -- height x width. A 4 x 6-foot sign is 24 square feet.

But what if the sign is an irregular shape, or if the copy only fills a fraction of the sign face? What if the sign is individual channel letters on a wall? What if a backlit awning includes a logo? In all of these situations, do you measure the entire polygon, or just the portion that includes a logo or text?

What if the letters include upper- and lower-case letters, which means ascenders and descenders? Do you measure a rectangle around this "irregular" shape?

If the sign code establishes relatively small maximum sizes for signs, and measures all signs as rectangles, does this curtail creativity in design, because the merchant feels compelled to make the necessary letters as large as possible in order to achieve maximum visibility? Does this discourage round, triangular, oval and other shapes of signs?

The International Sign Association website has a section on measuring signs. You can access it at  

Will GPS Make Signs Obsolete?

In 2008, a satellite-navigation specialist, Colin Beatty, presented a 27-slide PowerPoint presentation to the Sign Design Society, England's leading environmental graphic design association. He asked the rhetorical question in his title:.  "Could personal navigation systems herald the demise of much fixed signage?"

In a column published in The Slate, author Julia Turner explores this question by interviewing both GPS-oriented companies and wayfinding-sign designers, including Craig Berger from the Society of Environmental Graphic Designers. Craig also serves on the board of the Academic Advisory Council for Signage Research and Education (AACSRE). To read the full article, go to  

What Types of Signs are Most Commonly Used?

One of the most significant ways to divide the sign industry is into "electric" signs (which have internal illumination) and "commercial" signs, which are non-illuminated. For approximately three decades, a trade journal for the sign industry, Signs of the Times, conducted surveys of sign companies as to how their businesses were faring. These were called State of the Industry (SOI)reports. One of the stock questions was about the types of signs each company sold.

For electric signs, "cabinet" signs (essentially, enclosed plastic shapes with fluorescent or neon illumination inside) and "channel letters" (three-dimensional, individual letters shapes with the open area filled with neon or LEDs, and plastic that covered both the lighting and opening) have been the staples.

For commercial signs, banners and vehicle graphics have dominated.

In Signs of the Times' most recent Electric SOI report, sign companies said channel letters accounted for 32.3% of their overall business. Cabinet signs were next at 26.3%. Third were "main identification, freestanding signs," which meant they were set on the ground, and weren't attached to a building or any other structure, at 19.3%. Electronic message centers (EMCs) rated fourth at 10.3%. The full report can be read in the online edition at

In Signs of the Times' most recent Commercial SOI report, respondents said vehicle graphics (which includes the recent popularity of "wraps") account for 26.7% of their business, followd by banners at 18.7. Next came "dimensional signs" (routed, carved, sandblasted, etc.) at 19.1% and window graphics essentially the same at 9.9%. The full report can be read in the onllne digital edition at the following link. 

What Types of Lighting are used to Internally Illuminate Signs?

The three primary types have been fluorescent, neon and LEDs for at least two decades, but the ratio of each has drastically changed. An industry trade journal, Signs of the Times, has traditionally tracked these changes through industry surveys. Its most recent such survey was published in its March 2015 edition. It notes that (Table 4), in 2014, sign companies reported that LEDs illuminated nearly 60% of all electric signs. In contrast, that figure was 14.7% in 2006. Over that same time period, the percentages for fluorescent and neon dropped from 44.5% to 25.6% and from 34.1% to 12.3%, respectively. The full report can be read in that magazine's online, digital edition at the following link.

What the Three Street Graphics Books Say About Signs

In 1971, the American Planning Association (APA) began distributing a book called Street Graphics and the Law, which was authored by Daniel Mandelker and William Ewald. It recommended the uncompensated taking of signs and governmental control of signs' design, message and content.

The authors stated that their conclusions were substantially based on 1956 research conducted by Rockefeller University professor George Miller with regard to the human brain's ability to process multiple bits of information. Yet, when Miller read the authors' assessment of his research, he observed "The situation would be amusing if misrepresentations of my work were not being taken as the basis for enacting ordinances to control street graphics . . . I must strongly protest the distortion of my own work and must deplore the enactment of restrictions based on such an inadequate understanding of the psychological processes involved." Miller's 1000-word letter that denounces Street Graphics' interpretation of his work appeared in the April 1973 issue of Signs of the Times magazine.

In the following decade, several Supreme Court (SCOTUS) decisions overruled some tenets of the book. Subsequently, in 1988, the same authors revised the book as Street Graphics. It retreated from many of its restraint of trade recommendations, yet the majority of it remained intact.   

In 2005, the third version, entitled Street Graphics and the Law, was released, and a third author, from the sign industry, was listed on the cover as a principal author. He wrote one chapter that included some Penn State legibility tables. Most of the rest of the book remained intact, but, by implication, it appeared that the sign industry endorsed the entire book.

Thus, this third version was viewed as significantly flawed, but a slight improvement over the first two versions. The question still remains, how good must good enough be? Two separate discussions of the 2005 book appear in the January 2005 issue of Signs of the Times magazine.