Sign design has come a long way since I started out as an innocent young graduate working as a general designer for one of the country’s larger sign manufacturers back in 1989.

My first few years of “proper work” were varied; designing packaging, furniture layouts, price lists, a little bit of product design and the occasional sign…I also spent quite a while on the factory floor seeing how things were made and being sent out to get “sky hooks”, “tartan paint” or waiting for “a long stand” to arrive !

An American sign magazine called Identity used to land on my desk every couple of months (sadly no longer published).  I became fascinated by the design and originality of the signing schemes featured by people called Environmental Graphic Designers.  This in comparison to the institutional style stuff I witnessed in manufacture over here.  I’ve always maintained creative choice of shape, typeface and colours shouldn’t necessarily add to the cost of a project.

Treasured and well thumbed issues of Identity, dating back to 1994.

Opportunities to put some of this alternative stateside thinking soon came my way.  I got to assemble proposals for a number of the new universities, healthcare trusts and I think most relevant of all lottery funded public buildings.  I also changed employer, moving to a sales-based job in 1995 for a design-led sign company working on major projects throughout the North of England, taking in Nottingham, Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool as well as the North East.

The same year the first part of a new piece of legislation known as the DDA (Disabilities Discrimination Act) came into being — not before time in terms of accessibility for all, but potentially challenging for the UK sign industry.  The environmental graphic designers and US sign manufacturers had already been working to the American version the ADA (The Americans with Disabilities Act) for several years, many projects case studied in Identity.

Over the years I’ve been very fortunate to have been involved with many creative signage projects, tackling all aspects from start to finish or dovetailing my skills with others.  The work done across the pond continues to fascinate me and I’ve been a member of the US-based SEGD (Society for Experiential Graphic Design) since 2010.

First published on Sarah’s Notebook | 19th August 2011