Hoo Lee Gardens, Coburg Ontario Signs define our built environment more than architecture. This may be news to some, but itis true. At least from the street. In the same way that discarded sweaters, yesterday’s newspaper and and dusty old bits of Bric-a-brac clutter up those unlived-in rooms from decorator magazines once the cameras are gone, signage clutters up the street-scape. I shouldn’t say “clutters up” so much as inhabits, but it often is a clutter of signage. In any case, walk out onto any commercial street, open your eyes and what do you see? Signs! That’s right. you see signs. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s just people communicating.
We do that. Quite a lot, actually. Of course, there are hierarchies of communication. Sometimes one needs to post a very important message that must be read. Sometimes, it’s just senseless, unwelcome noise rudely pushed in your face.

Some signs are beautifully designed and well made. Others are not – It can at times even be a kindness to suggest some are designed at all and, if “well made” means they don’t fall down, then, they are for the most part, well made.
I design signs for a living and before that I made signs. The signs I design are pretty ordinary looking wayfinding, regulatory and informational signs. In my job, I try to communicate as clearly and concisely as possible. That, at least is my objective. My goal here, in this blog, is to observe. Good signage, bad signage, naive or sophisticated. It’s all communication. I am as interested in finding out at what point a sign fails to communicate, and how. Or how it may communicate in some unintended way.
This blog is about signs, symbols and typography in their natural habitat.
Open your eyes. Look around. What do you see? Signs. Yes, you see signs.

Future topics will include:

  • Optical (glasses) stores. (pictographs and symbols used to represent glasses)
  • Barbershops (older ones, with dated looking and hand made signs – talk to owners about their signs)
  • Shoe repair shops – same thing.
  • Interesting hand made, primarily naive, or old with feel of specific era. (e.g.. just south of Finch Avenue on Yonge Street there is a travel shop with nice brush script and what looks like corrugated substrate.
  • Abandoned signs.
  • Cast iron lettering (I will go to foundries – see how casts are made.)
  • Deteriorated signs – wear and tear (on going theme)
  • Making signs – small shops. people who make their own signs.
  • Getting permits (Headaches to sign companies VS headaches to city officials VS headaches to everyone else.
  • Not getting permits.
  • Unintended messages.
  • Signage systems. Inter views with designers.
  • Multilingual signage English & Persian, English, Chinese & Korean, English and Chinese, English and Arabic. Talk to store owners & designers/sign makers.
  • Street panoramas – e.g., all the store fronts on Yonge Street between Cummer Avenue and Steeles Avenue Choc-a-block with storefront signage in at least six different languages. (Between east & west sides of the street, about 2.5K of acrylic)

Future Interviews:

I’m also hoping to to conduct a few interviews with people who are interested in signs and signage.
All images will be mine. I’m an artist, so some of them will be drawings of signs.
The sign above, for Hoo Lee Garden, in Coburg Ontario, is a lovely example to start with. It has aged well and I like it.

One item for the record:

While, as a “Sign Observer”, I am interested train stations, particularly old ones, and railway signage in general, my interest is also professional, since I work as a designer for a commuter rail and bus service. As such I will not write about or display photos of anything remotely associated with anything to do with my job or active commuter services in the Greater Toronto area, as it just seems like an obvious area for potential or perceived conflicts of interest.

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