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Ten Key Sign-Industry Happenings of 2014

The year’s great and not-so-great moments



As another year winds to a close (with every passing one, they seem to move more quickly), it’s appropriate to reflect on sign-related occurrences over the last 12 months. And, with David Letterman having recently set his May 20 retirement date, it’s also fitting to compile a Top 10 list. However, I won’t try to match the trademark snark Letterman’s provides with his show’s daily countdown. We don’t insist these events and trends are, unequivocally, the 10 most important things to happen in the sign business over 2014. We’d appreciate any feedback.

10. The International Sign Assn. (ISA) Makes Its First-Ever Presentation at the American Planning Assn. (APA) Meeting National Conference. For decades, the APA has been regarded as an adversary to the sign industry. Through three editions of Daniel Mandelker’s Street Graphics and the Law, which first appeared in 1978, the APA has espoused regulations that would make signs conform to a seemingly arbitrary, aesthetic standard that restricts commercial speech. However, the APA may be moderating its attitudes toward signage. In April at the APA’s annual conference, James Carpentier, ISA’s manager of state and local government affairs (and an APA member), made the presentation “Effective Urban Wayfinding” along with Todd Vaught, principal of Atlanta’s Sky Design; Craig Berger, who was SEGD’s longtime director of education and is currently on the faculty at the Florida Institute of Technology; and Sachin Kalbag, from Miami’s Downtown Development Authority. The fact that ISA was invited to speak may indicate the organization and its member planners are more receptive to signs’ economic impact.

9. Growing tradeshows. Debunking any concerns that virtual means of communication will kill face-to-face, business interactions, the 2014 editions of the International Sign Assn. (ISA) Sign Expo and Specialty Graphics Imaging Assn. (SGIA) Expo demonstrated the shows’ vitality. ISA reported record attendance for an Orlando show (which occurs in even-numbered years): more than 18,100 visited the show, a 10% increase over the 2012 event, and the 198,900 sq. ft. of exhibit space set an Orlando record. Likewise, SGIA reported its tally of 25,500 registered attendees and 541 exhibitors set its own Expo record. The industry’s tradeshows are a solid barometer for the industry, so this is a good sign.

8. Sign Manufacturing Education Day. Long overdue, educators are acknowledging en masse that perhaps college isn’t the best post-secondary education option for some. Vocational school provides a solid path to a viable career for many, and many of the trades taught in such schools are readily transferrable to signmaking. For the second year, ISA partnered with the National Assn. of Manufacturing to stage Sign Manufacturing Education Day on October 3. Seventeen shops with 21 locations conducted education – a significant increase from the 9 that participated last year. The sign industry needs to fill the pipeline with the next generation of sign designers, installers and fabricators, and this is a tremendous way to introduce the business to young adults still considering a career path.

7. Midterm election results. The economy has improved from its 2009 depths, but concerns remain over growth that seemingly only occurred in fits and starts. My November 5 newsletter editorial, which was written immediately prior to and published the day after this year’s midterm election, recounted results from several polls that indicated lingering anxiety and malaise about economic conditions. The election’s outcome, which strengthened the Republican’s hold on the House of Representatives and gave them control of the Senate, affirmed discontent with the status quo in Washington. What will result? Who knows? However, Karen Kerrigan, president and CEO of the Small Business Entrepreneurship Council, expressed optimism that a more favorable regulatory climate for small business would result.

6. Our Kind of Town. Chicago officials dealt with several sign-related issues throughout the year. Mayor Rahm Emanuel castigated Donald Trump for the large channel letters installed on Chicago’s Trump Tower, referring to them as tasteless. However, the sign was approved by city zoning officials, and is unlikely to be removed. The city’s Zoning Committee also approved a bill sponsored by Alderman Brendan Reilly that stipulates, when signs are replaced on the city’s tony Michigan Ave., halo-lit channel letters will replace cabinet signs. And, finally, the much-beloved (on the North Side, anyway) Chicago Cubs have had repeated discussions with city officials about the role signs will play as part of a $375 million renovation to the Cubs’ home, Wrigley Field. On December 4, the Commission of Chicago Landmarks approved a compromise plan; changes to the original plan including reducing and moving a “Wrigley” script sign and reducing the right-field video board from 2,400 to 2,250 sq. ft. According to a Crain’s Chicago Business article, the moves were made, in part, in an attempt to win a grant from the National Park Service.


5. Dynamic digital signs’ (DS) growing role. DS’ growing presence in the sign industry was evident with the growth of the Dynamic Digital Park at the 2014 ISA Sign Expo – it was 34% larger than its 2013 debut, with 12 new exhibitors. Also, Almo, a leading distributor of DS-related products, co-located its show to maximize its sign-industry presence. Federal Heath’s agreement with ScreenScape to provide dynamic digital signage and place-based media reflect the market’s growth. N. Glantz’s creation of Glantz Dynamic Solutions (GDS) as a DS distributor seemingly underscored more widespread adoption, but its August shutdown of the division (N. Glantz subsequently solid it to Almo) may indicate DS still entails a learning curve for many in the sign business.

4. Broadening scope. In partnership with the Advertising Specialty Institute (ASI), ST Media Group launched the Signage + Graphics Pavilion at ASI’s annual July show in Chicago. The move reflects a natural cross-pollination between the two adjacent enterprises: signmakers can grow business by supplementing sales to existing customers via ad specialties, and ad-specialty vendors can grow through offering signage. For 2015, ASI’s sign-related floor space has been rebranded Graphics Central. For more information, click here.

3. Signs reach their goal. Sporting events that bring the world together, and signs play a vital role in informing and familiarizing fans with destinations and amenities. The World Cup, which took place across Brazil in June and July, attracted approximately 3.5 million fans (not to mention countless millions more tuned in across the globe, also exposed to signage, environmental graphics and branding). An expansive gallery of signage reflects the diverse messages such an international event requires. Even the plane that transports the Brazilian national team attracted considerable attention.

2. Prominent losses. The worlds of signage and environmental graphics lost several giants in 2014. Kirk Brimley’s leadership with Young Electric Sign Co. (YESCO) and ISA played a key role in advocating for industry growth and amenable sign codes; Brian McNamara earned plaudits from the ISA during his more than 25 years of coordinating its Sign Expo shows, which enjoyed tremendous growth under his management; Mike Rielley was one of the “Original Seven” members of the Letterhead movement, which has rekindled interest in traditional sign-production methods for nearly 40 years; Deborah Sussman, who received an invaluable design education working for Charles and Roy Eames, developed the environmental-graphic standards for Los Angeles’ 1984 Summer Olympics and was co-principal of Sussman + Prejza, an influential firm in the field, with her husband, Paul Prejza; and, Mossimo Vignelli, who brought European Modernist sensibilities to U.S. graphic design; his diverse portfolio includes designing signage for the NYC and Washington, D.C. subway systems, brochures for the National Park Service and shopping bags for Bloomingdale’s and Barney’s.

1. Supreme Court Takes Up Sign-Related Case. On July 1, the Supreme Court of the U.S. (SCOTUS) announced it would hear the case of Reed v. Town of Gilbert. Clyde Reed, the pastor of a small church in Gilbert AZ, had set out lawn signs to promote his house of worship. However, Gilbert officials repeatedly forbade their usage outside of a very restrictive timeframe. With legal help from Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a religious-advocacy organization, he sued, citing First Amendment violations. The case has previously been heard by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled against Reed and ADF, but SCOTUS has now agreed to rule on the matter, which could have significant implications for commercial speech, sign ordinances and overall application of the First Amendment. January 12 has been set as the date SCOTUS will hear arguments. Messages sent to ADF regarding a timeframe for the rendering of a decision haven’t been returned.




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