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Member Since: Dec, 2009

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How I learned sign design
By SignDesign Books
Saturday, December 26, 2009

Rated "G" by the Author.

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I had been graphic designing for 20 years, naturally, I thought I could design signs. Oh yeah?

In the early part of 2000, I applied to work as a graphic designer for a contractor sign company in Long Beach California.  Having had 20 years experience designing as a graphic artist, I thought I was an easy plug for the position.  In the interview, the owner told me, "You know nothing about signs.  Why should I hire you?"  I gave several reasons why he should hire me, all of which were very strong reasons.  Finally, I said, "Is there a book, a manual, anything I can learn from?"  He said, "No."  That puzzled me.

Because the owner of this sign company was desperate for a designer, I was hired.

Within the first year of working as a sign designer-in training, I designed and designed the best I could.  Every week, for a period of one year, I had my drawings rejected, over and over again.  I kept hearing (from a yelling tone), "We can't build this!"  I couldn't understand why.

After one year, I got a revelation.  I finally got it.

Within that year period, I had been receiving drawings from a freelance sign designer (a woman who was really, really good) with which, I was secretly learning.  I also visited the fabrication department of our company everyday, and asked dozens of questions to learn more about material and fabrication of signs.

In that time (and years after), I visited Borders Books and Barnes and Noble, and could not find one book on the subject of how to design signs, that is illuminated and non-illuminated signage.  Not one book.  I also researched on the Internet, in every nook and cranny there was.  Still nothing.


After 8 years of designing for many companies, I went to work for a sign company (in Long Beach, CA.) that specialized in interior signs.  Here was an area, I had no knowledge of and it was right in my industry.

This job position opened my eyes to the other side of the business.  At this point, I got another revelation.  After merely one year of working at this company, I set off to create and complete the very first book on the subject of how to design illuminated and non-illuminated signs.

It is amazing that every business in America has a sign, e.g., Macy's, Starbucks, Quiznos, Subway, Outback, et al.  Most of the signs for business are electric signs, and there is no school that teaches the craft of sign design.  There is no seminar, conferences, or books on the subject of sign design for electrical and non-electrical sign companies.  Now there is.  I know this, because I wrote it.  Inside Sign Design from my company, Chatterbox Designs Incorporated, Torrance California.

A graphic designer must go work for a contractor sign company to learn this skill and knowledge of sign design, the old-fashion way, apprenticeship.

Now, there is a manual and reference book to assist graphic designers learn the trade.

Thanks for reading.


Mike Burke

Author, Designer


       Web Site: Chatterbox Designs

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