Nov 9, 201309:00 AMPoint of View

Signgeist 3: Signage as Brand

Signgeist 3: Signage as Brand

Courtesy Flickr, NY10014 Photo Stream

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I was probably about 12 when a friend and I snuck out of the neighborhood and rode our bikes to the local hamburger joint. It was called The Red Barn—the building looked like a barn, and its sign was shaped like a barn. The restaurant is long gone, but I still remember its visual impact, if not the hamburgers.

We associate events in our lives with many things—sights, sounds, smells, people, and places…including buildings and signs. While the Red Barn chain is history, its hamburger competitor is now a Fortune 500 company recognized the world over. Just two words—“golden arches”—and you immediately know the chain to which I am referring. It took another year or two before my “illegal” excursions out of the neighborhood took me to the McDonald’s many miles away.

To me, the golden arches and red and white buildings were as distinct as the Eiffel Tower and were representative of my life and small world at the time. Today those arches, now joined to form a stylized letter “M,” are an instantaneous symbol of fast, easy food, a family-friendly environment, and a reliable, predictable product—the McDonald’s brand. Golden arches = brand identity!


Fast food restaurants and hotel chains are particularly fond of using iconic sign forms to reinforce their brands. Signs for Bob’s Big Boy, KFC, Motel 6, and Quality Inn proclaim their presence and extend a sense of welcome, relief, and refuge to motorists on highways nationwide. Not to mention one of the most iconic hotel chain signs of all time, the now defunct swoosh arrow and starburst twinkle of the original Holiday Inn. (These were enormous!)

Courtesy Postcard from Birmingham, AL; Collection of David Cobb Craig, Louisiana. Sign designed by Gene Barber and Rowland Alexander of Memphis's Bolton & Sons Sign Company in 1952

We  find comfort and security in the form of familiar icons. Recognizable objects and surroundings can relieve stress and anxiety. In an unfamiliar landscape, you suddenly find something you know.

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