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Design Like Lives are at Stake

KickCharge Creative’s Dan Antonelli challenges sign businesses to treat wrap design as seriously as installation.

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VERY EARLY IN MY career I was taught how important it was to become as knowledgeable about my craft as I could. Starting as a signpainter’s apprentice, I read every single trade magazine I could. I also went on to study advertising and graphic design – all in an effort to better myself, and make my services more valuable to small businesses. And I’ve spent the last 25 years in business honing and perfecting my craft, with the idea that we are all a work in progress, and that nothing we do today should be considered good enough for tomorrow.

Certifiable Designs

So here’s some tough love. When I think about our profession, I lament the lack of education and desire by many to fully understand this profession. The industry is riddled with poorly executed design, and continues to produce signage with little to no functional value to the small businesses that so desperately rely on sign companies to market their businesses effectively.

There are precious few professions one can enter without study or qualifications mandated by a governing body. You can’t be a plumber or an electrician without rigorous testing. There’s a certification process. Yet, nothing of the sort exists in the sign trade. The only qualification you need is the cash to buy a printer or plotter. The ability to open a signshop is promoted as something for which “no experience is necessary.”

So what happens to an entire industry without any prerequisites or barriers to entry? Plenty of people wholly unqualified, offering advice and strategy to the very same small businesses that depend on them to know their profession. And I’m not talking about parking signs. I’m talking about signs, wraps and images that can make or break a business. We do have certifications to install wraps, which is a step in the right direction – but no such certification on how to actually create effective signage that leverages those installation skills. What good is a great install with a poor layout?

Many view this industry as nothing more than just “stickers on a substrate.” They perpetuate this idea that we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously. As if that’s validation for mediocrity.

Creating Change

What would happen if you, as a signshop owner, operated under the premise that you should design as if lives were at stake? The idea that livelihoods were either made or lost based on your expertise. Would you then invest in learning everything you could if you viewed that as a sacred responsibility? When you choose to run your business and your team with that mindset, you’ll witness amazing things. You will build a culture and reputation for a company that truly cares about clients, has their backs and is taking steps to remain invested in their success.

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After decades of constantly improving my craft, the results I see for our clients make the effort worthwhile. We are changing lives by deploying effective design, creating jobs and helping businesses grow. Take Goettl Air Conditioning, who hired us to rebrand them when they were a 60-person, $7 million company. Six years later, they have over 750 employees with more than $150 million in revenue. What might have happened if we just thought what we did were just stickers on a truck, and did not take designing seriously?

The irony, industry-wide, is that very few shops operate like this. Way more shops are selling signs by the pound or square footage in a desperate race to the bottom. However, the amazing thing is that design is the best way to distinguish your shop and avoid the race to the bottom. With all the shops attaining the same wrap certifications, why would a client choose one over the other? But what if your shop had the best designers, who produced work that was changing the lives of those businesses? Then the lowest-cost provider is secondary – because they can’t provide the designs and results that you sell down the road.

Until there is some type of barrier to entry to this industry, take it upon yourself to invest in training your staff on the fundamentals of design. Invest in learning how marketing works for small businesses, and how to create signage that is designed to help businesses prosper. Design as if your work had the potential to make or break that business. And then design like lives are at stake. You owe it to yourself, and your clients.

PHOTO GALLERY (4 IMAGES)

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