Signs have been around for almost as long as man has. A sign, in its most basic form, is a visual presentation of information. The pre-historic cave dwellers in what is now France painted pictures of hunting scenes on their walls to let others know what great hunters they were. From early times to the neon madness of Times Square in New York today, the function of the sign has remained more or less the same – to report news, provide directions to locations, tell people about products and services and so on.
The origin of signage
Signs, as we know them now made their first appearance in ancient Rome. Most people were illiterate, and commercial activities were growing. Inns, shops and other business houses started using pictorial representation of what business was being done at different places. Pictures were the means to inform people where they could get swords repaired, sandals made and food bought. How else would a stranger find a tavern where he could get a drink? Early signs were mainly made of stone or terracotta. Blacksmiths would have used metal, and carpenters wood. The combination of the image and the material used provided all the information that was required. Early Christians used the cross to identify places of prayer.
The need to stand out
As commerce expanded over the following centuries, competition grew, and regulations were put in place to control these activities. The first legislated use of signs was in the 14th century when the King of England decreed that any place that sold ale must have a sign in front of it. The reasons for this decree are unknown, but it made life easier for those in need of a drink. However, other problems cropped up for the customers: for example, questions like which tavern, located where, selling what particular brew, etc., if a group of them wanted to socialize at a particular tavern.
The solutions came in the form of more complex signs that had pictures (and perhaps words) identifying a specific establishment. As competition continued to increase, and the need to establish a specific identity became more intense, signs became increasingly elaborate. Inclusion of brand names and use of advertising techniques in signs became a necessity.
The advent of modern signs
The growth of cities in the 17th and 18th centuries increased the need for more signage, both to tell people where in the city they were, and guide them to specific places they wanted to go to. The complexity of the urban jungle made signs essential. The invention of electricity heralded exciting changes: the material, color and design of signage gained a lot more attention; they could now be seen in the dark. The sign continued to advertise the business even when it was closed for the day.
The Sign Is Still Relevant
Today you have a wide array of options for informing the market about your business; print, TV and the internet are all major channels. But the sign still remains relevant and essential, as it is the most cost-effective way of telling people who you are and what you do. Investing a small amount of time and money to get the best and most attractive signs will always pay. Remember, your sign identifies you: the better it is, the better will be the projection of your business image. YOUR SIGN IS YOU!