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Signs With Attitude and Appeal

Non-traditional solutions make positive impressions.



When asked by yearbook editors what she thought about high-school cliques, a former classmate responded, "Different groups have different attitudes." Although I vaguely remember this girl, I haven’t forgotten her sentiment.

Different people express different attitudes to not only distinguish themselves, but also make an impression. Whether a person makes a good or bad impression depends on his attitude. Like most people, most signage strives to be unique and generate a positive impression.

An LED-matrix display that provides detailed information about a product or service, and incorporates moving messages, will probably garner more attention than a traditional static sign. For years, static, non-dimensional structures were the norm. Today, however, non-traditional signs that comprise movement and/or 3-D effects are more ubiquitous, because competitive businesses have discovered that non-traditional signage solutions can be more noticeable and, in turn, more valuable than traditional signs.

For example, 3-D structures in the form of giant ketchup bottles and beanstalks (see ST , June 2003, page 88, and January 2004, page 66, respectively) are becoming permanent fixtures in numerous, crowd-gathering environments around the world. Not only do their liberal sizes make them noticeable, but such signs may also offer interactive features for fans or passers-by.

However, interactive LED displays and giant 3-D sculptures aren’t the only signage forms that make an impact. For example, the use of full-color digital graphics is another way to make a visual impression.

According to a FastSigns® August 2003 press release, "With advertising clutter at an all-time high, many marketers are considering non-traditional methods to get their messages out." Consequently, businesses seeking non-traditional, digital-graphics solutions usually opt for full-body vehicle wraps comprising eye-popping, photographic images, or life-sized banners that span the sides of buildings or restaurant windows.

There’s no limit to what a good sign can do for a business. So it’s no surprise that signs with more pop and pizzazz are becoming the standard. The projects featured here are a sampling of the types of unique signs businesses are incorporating to break through the advertising clutter and make a positive impression.

Major League Signage

Based on the success of Chermayeff & Geismar’s (C&G) initial signage, mural and display-design package for Major League Baseball (MLB), New York City, MLB commissioned the New York City-based design and architectural firm to design two additional floors for its Park Ave. headquarters. To enhance MLB’s reception area, C&G designed a mural depicting 10 baseball players in different stances. The players’ silhouettes feature laser-cut stainless steel and edge-lit neon. Visit:

A Switch From Day to Night

Located directly across from Wrigley Field, this vinyl billboard lets Chicago Cubs’ fans know whether their team is playing a day or night game. Fabricated by Atomic Props & Effects Ltd. (St. Paul, MN), the 11-ft.-tall light switch comprises closed-cell Styrofoam plastic foam, a fiberglass coating and paint. From behind the billboard, the switch can be manually set to "night game" or "day game" via a hook. A steel frame serves as the switch’s structural support. Visit:

Fine-Dining Signage

Ball Ground, GA-based Raydeo custom built these unique sign components, among others, for Grand Central Station’s (New York City) dining concourse. Because the building is more than 90 years old, a major project goal was to avoid potential structural problems. Thus, Raydeo opted to use composites and aluminum, rather than solid bronze. The result was a product that weighed less, yet mimicked the appearance of bronze. For the signs’ finish, Raydeo applied LuminOre® cold sprayable metal.

To create the utensils — the tallest piece measures 72 in. — the sign fabricator incorporated a combination of CNC technology, craftsmanship and heat. The utensils were patterned after an original style popular nearly 90 years ago.

Further, to custom build the "Grand Central Market" fish, Raydeo purchased a North Atlantic Salmon and froze it in the shape it desired to create the prototype. By doing so, resident sculptor and artist Fred Allen was able to hand-sculpt every scale to make the fish appear more realistic. Reportedly, the task made Allen a little crazy. Visit:

Ship to Ship

The Mad Scientists (, a San Francisco Bay Area-based group of artists and engineers, have created several large, interactive-art installations for Burning Man events. In 2002, the group created Ship to Ship, which simulated the experience of sending messages to other planets, or ships in the night, via a flashing light. The experience comprised three parts: recording, approving and sending.

This beam was the project’s most visible part. A laser-like, white searchlight beam from an M60 military tank was modulated to produce peaks of 100-million candlepower. The beam modulation is a simple mapping of a person’s voice directly to the beam’s brightness — similar to AM radio, but with arc light as the carrier wave. The spotlight was bolted atop a satellite-tracking mount and pointed at stars that were selected when messages were recorded.

Four Linux computers on a wireless-fidelity (Wi-Fi) system network managed the system.

Editor’s Note: This information was excerpted from Tim Black’s "Burning Man" article, which appeared in Leonardo’s October 2003 edition. John Wendt photographed the image.

For a Fun Ride….

TRC Studios Inc. (San Clemente, CA) fabricated both 15 x 6-ft., 3-D billboard signs featured here for Disneyland® Resort’s (Anaheim, CA) redesigned Autopia ride — the only existing Tomorrowland attraction dating back to opening day, July 17, 1955. Today, Chevron sponsors the attraction.

"Birdbath Carwash" features six layers of UV-resistant vinyl applied to water-resistant wood with plastic laminated on both sides. The four separate layers of bubbles move back and forth to appear as though they’re scrubbing the car. Similarly, "Hungry?" features four vinyl layers applied to water-resistant wood, and the car’s tongue moves back and forth. Both animated billboards feature a powder-coated frame.

TRC studios designed the graphics in Adobe Illustrator® and output them using a 3M Scotchprint® system. Visit:

Hot Diggity Dog

Abracadabra Signs and Designs (Ayr, Ontario, Canada) created this 3-D "foot long" for a Benton, KY-based houseboat. Measuring approximately 12 ft. long x 41/2 ft. wide x 41/2 ft. high, the structure’s primary building materials include wood, chicken wire, structural, high-density urethane (to cover the chicken wire) and fiberglass. The shop also employed 1Shot speed-dry paint and UV acrylic clear. Visit:

A Wet Nose Is a Sign of a…

Fabricated by Boise-based Idaho Electric Sign Co., this sign features 0.090-in. aluminum lettering and whiskers. The sign’s nose comprises two layers of 3-in.-thick SignFoam® that was glued together, handshaped via rasps, layered with fiberglass and then painted. All sign components are flush-mounted to the wall via welded studs. Visit:

Lantern of Light

For the Stony Point Fashion Park in Richmond, VA, Dillon Works! Inc. (Mukilteo, WA) fabricated numerous large, exterior light monuments. The 6-ft.-tall steel and stained-glass lanterns, 4-ft.-tall internally illuminated urns and 2-ft.-diameter spheres create an intimate setting for mall visitors. Visit:



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