Sean Willis has over 23 years of design experience in the sign industry along with an additional 5 years of Mechanical Design working for a defense contractor. In his estimated 3500 projects with 200 companies, Sean has developed a talent for designing custom signage that stands out from the competition. Recently, Sean shared insights on his approach and lessons learned while at Apex Sign Group.
The design industry has significantly changed over the course of my career. When I first started designing, we did every drawing by hand and now it’s mostly AutoCAD and other Design Softwares. Regulations have also changed considerably. Even through all the changes, my process has stayed pretty much the same. Sign design is a fundamental part of a retail brand’s image. Getting it right involves more than an artistic eye, though—it requires critical analysis of the materials and components, overall sizing per code along with general location and site knowledge. Above all, great signage is a product of experience, ingenuity, and creativity.
Here are a few guidelines I follow when designing the industry’s best signs:
1. Understand the project from every angle—literally.
Custom sign projects carry extra baggage as a lot of people have a lot of opinions on a lot of the details. All of this input is important and definitely have a perspective as well. To make it easier, I have quite a few templates and examples to help clients work through the process, and I can help coalesce different viewpoints. I find it important to consider sign projects from every angle, even physically. We perform site analysis for sign visibility and readability from different points of view.
2. Keep your approach consistent.
Whether it’s a national program or a small custom sign project, every sign requires a similar level of analysis and understanding. Materials and sizing may vary, but deciding on these elements relies on the same approach. Over a period of many years, I’ve developed a series of templates and general sign toolkits as well as client specific criteria. In this manner, all of our design renderings maintain a certain level of consistency and then are expanded upon with the addition of custom details. This helps expedite the design process because the elements of design are always the same—what makes each unique is how we put them together.
3. Brand image is a priority!
Signs set the impression customers have about a store even before they enter. In every project I work on, maintaining the client’s brand image is more important than anything else. I consider myself a collaborator on design. With some sign companies, the client tells the designer what they want and the designer just does it. At Apex, we use our years of experience to make a client’s ideas even better with value engineering. Clients know their brand better than anyone, but we have the design knowledge—not to mention information like electric needs, methods of construction, and municipal codes. When we work together, we create something great.