Signage is a word that is obviously pervasive in our industry as are words such as Wayfinding, Branding and so forth. We constantly debate, especially amongst ourselves, about what business are we really in. Is it Wayfinding, Branding, Signage, Communication, Graphics and so on. If you were challenged with the “elevator conundrum” what would you say – that is if you got in an elevator and someone asked you to tell them what business you are in, what would you tell them in the 30 second ride?

Recently, on LinkedIn there was a discussion which was initiated by Sean Brereton, Creative Director at The Velvet Principle regarding the use of the word signage. Below is a transcript of the dialogue on LinkedIn which clearly reflects that there is little agreement or unanimity on the topic.

The dialogue went as follows:

Sean Brereton “Hi – I am after some help regarding the use of the word ‘signage’.

Personally, I have always resisted using it – to me it always sounds like something you buy by the pound/kilo and a little bit unrefined. I say, we design signs. Increasingly though, we are being briefed on signage requirements or referred to as signage people.

Do I need to just get over this bugbear and accept that it is common parlance?
What are your views – do you use the word?

Thank you.”

Deborah Burgess “I prefer the word signage because it refers specifically to a system of visual pieces that are designed, fabricated and installed. A sign or signs can mean a multitude of things – omens, hand gestures, symptoms, etc. It is therefore a word that is confusing in its multiplicity of meaning. But hey, they are both just words. I say use whatever you prefer because after all, they are your ‘signs’ or ‘signage’.”

Liz Ruff “Signs, Signage, Sign Systems, Wayfinding even Environmental (nay! Experiential !) Design…all work for me. The broader remains: What is most meaningful to the client. I adopt their terminology – that way, we’re all on speaking the same language. More and more, I find clients using the term ‘signage’ vs. ‘sign’.”

Tony Moore “I tend to call it branding unless it serves a specific purpose i.e. way finding H&S etc… however even if covering the latter maintaining brand is still key.
Signage covers so many variations I guess there is no definitive answer.”

Sean Brereton “Thanks all for your input, comments and feedback so far on this. The variety of response is what I suspected would be the case. I think it is fair to say, that as a sector involved in the communications industry, there are times when our terminology is not as clear as it could be – especially to those outside of the business and does not always communicate what we think.

My question was specifically around the word signage but this brought wayfinding into the discussion (unsurprisingly given the name of this group). Perhaps off at a tangent but wayfinding is not just about signs (or signage). Coincidentally, our earlier blog piece on this can be found here…. http://thevelvetprinciple.com/blog/wayfinding-thats-just-signs-isnt-it/

I will continue to resist using the word signage and be more descriptive with terms used to ensure that my audience fully understands what I mean. I am always interested to hear different points of view and take on new learnings.
Thanks again

Richard Miller “Hi Sean, we were always told back in the 90’s that it’s a French word for signs and using it will help us sell into continental projects when we had a chance to work with European contractors!!”

Craig Berger “Ah and now Liz brought up Environmental versus Experiential. A great conversation in of itself. Not that I would like to start one!”

Coco Raynes “The French word for what we do is ‘signalétique’. However, as we are American Designers, to know the word does not help us. Sometimes, if the interlocutor does not have attention disorder, I reply that I design and implement signs and information systems!”

Curtis Roberts “I use ‘signage’ more often than not. But I don’t think there is confusion between the terms, so it’s ultimately about personal preference.”


The above dialog seems to confirm what was said in the introduction. There is no unanimity in describing what we do. The question then becomes, does it matter? We think it does because, as mentioned above, we should be able to communicate in a 30 second elevator ride exactly what we do.

Which of the contributors to the discussion do you think has the most persuasive argument?


Selwyn Josset 2017


Proprietary Technology

ASI has developed a palette of proprietary technologies to help facilitate an easy process for our clients. View the video to learn more about these digital assets.

BOA Winners

Winner of Bloom Award (Overall Best of ASI) and Best Complete Solution
University of Iowa Hancher Auditorium, Iowa City, IA
Hancher Auditorium, the premier performing arts venue in Eastern Iowa, was destroyed in 2008 in a historic 100-year flood. The new home for this premier performing arts center opened in September 2016 with a highly efficient and sustainable design. The interior signage was designed with complimentary stainless steel and wood that carried the custom environmental graphics heavy package. Donor recognition also played a key role in this facility. Through careful negotiations and value-engineering recommendations, ASI was able to offer solutions for high-end performing products that also meet a very tight timeline for installation before their public open house.


Winner of The Bloom Award, Runner-Up: Children’s Home Levine Family Health Center, Cincinnati, OH
The Children’s Home of Cincinnati, founded in 1864, began as a shelter for poor and abandoned children throughout Cincinnati and has since expanded to more than 20 centers and community-based programs throughout the city. Today, it provides social, mental, and behavioral health services for children and families throughout the region. The Levine Family Health Center opened in 2016 as part of a partnership with the Cincinnati Health Department, Cincinnati Public Schools, Interact for Health and Growing Well. To recognize the many donors who brought the project to fruition, the Children’s Home chose ASI to design, produce, and install donor recognition signage.
ASI’s donor signage for the Levine Family Health Center incorporates the existing purple and yellow color scheme of Children’s Home brand while also adding other bright and vivid colors to the palette. The generous donors were recognized in several ways: on the individual door IDs, as dimensional elements, and as silkscreened copy on the glass above the seating area.


Winner of Best Interior Solution: Des Moines University, Des Moines, IA
Des Moines University looks to improve lives in their global community by educating diverse groups of highly competent and compassionate health professionals. To give the students and visitors to the school clear direction they choose to work with RDG Planning and Design to ensure proper wayfinding on their campus which includes five buildings with multiple floors.
The product they chose was Infinity as it was a changeable modular system, giving the clean and modern look they were after. The University included their logo throughout the system, replacing the antiquated overheads and wall mounted directionals. The overhead signage was a custom construction of Chemetal over MDF, with acrylic on the sides, and mounted with aircraft cable. They will also use the Online Ordering System (OOS) to update signage with future changes. Installation was scheduled to be completed by the beginning of classes in August and had to be adjusted to allow access to tour groups and student orientation visits.


Winner of Best Exterior Solution: Catholic Health Initiatives, Various Locations
Catholic Health Initiatives is a nation-wide health organization focused on a nurturing healing, supporting education and research to create healthier communities. This initiative was a national re-brand that included not only large and small campuses but also clinics. Monigle Associates surveyed each location and provided the design work for an exterior signage program which included exterior letters, wayfinding and monument signs. ASI provided a turnkey signage program including permits and production drawings with a dedicated project manager for the 35 locations located in Nebraska and Iowa. ImageFirst, LLC, our partner in manufacturing and a UL listed exterior manufacturer provided custom exterior monuments and exterior letters within the tight time frame.

Winner of Best Donor Recognition Solution: Gallagher Center, Niagara University, NY
Niagara University was founded in 1856 and is a NCAA Division 1 school. They are proud to have fostered the talents of many influential alumnae in the fields of academic and sports including NBA legends Calvin Murphy, Frank Layden, Hubie Brown and the late Larry Costello.
When the University choose to renovate Gallagher Center (the heart of the campus and athletic program), they turned to ASI for help in designing and manufacturing a recognition solution! The recent renovation of the space will serve as a cornerstone recognizing the history, tradition, talent, and opportunity that the school offers students and alumnae.
ASI was asked to help bring the University’s vision to life. We brainstormed with numerous departments from athletics and marketing to planning and design, listening to their needs and ideas. Once we had a true understanding of their vision, we began to design the new environmental graphics and signage. Wallpaper was chosen as the medium used for photo collages showing the history of the University, sports, and academic programs. Dimensional letters, vinyl, and digital prints highlight key phrases and provides flexibility and future growth. The signage program exceeded expectations and delivers a wow factor that compliments the renovated space.


Winner of Best Innovative Solution: Watermark Hotel, Baton Rouge, LA
Built as Baton Rouge’s first sky scraper in 1927, the Watermark Hotel was originally the home of the Louisiana Trust & Savings Bank. Listed on the National Historic Registry, the hotel features original murals, painted by celebrated artist Angela Gregory, that were painstakingly preserved and refinished. ASI, Louisiana was brought on as a design-build contractor, working directly for the building owner. Every aspect of the signage design required an innovative solution. The ADA room signs were designed around the hotel logo and brand elements, and ASI, Louisiana utilized its 3D printing capabilities to create custom logo panels for every interior sign. The design team wanted to create the illusion of a giant safe door on all the meeting room glass doors, to beckon back to the building’s former history. ASI, Louisiana created custom images from frosted vinyl to replicate this effect. At the elevators, ASI, Louisiana was asked to provide new call button plates in brass. Upon final wall completion, the old boxes were left sticking out of the wall, from 5/8” to 2” on some floors. ASI, Louisiana had custom call boxes fabricated in solid brass that covered the existing boxes and held to consistent hotel branding. The exterior signage, however, was the truly innovative part of this project. The main street sign was designed to be a 36’-high by 6’-wide flag-mount cabinet. ASI, Louisiana worked closely with architects, engineers, city officials, installation team members, and the contractor to get the sign approved and installed. The contractor had to remove 24” of brick to expose the concrete supports. The engineer helped design steel supports that were anchored to the concrete column. Once the brick was reinstalled, ASI, Louisiana had the sign cabinet erected over the support tubes. Similarly, a 40’-long panel sign with 42”-high channel letters, was installed at the top of the building on the 13th Floor Penthouse wall. A commercial crane and multiple street closures were required to complete the final installation.

See the full Case study here

ADA Signage

The ASI Team has extensive experience consulting clients on compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. As such, we often receive inquiries for clarification on ADA and accessibility standards for signage.


Illuminate the ASI Difference

See how ASI’s more than 50 years of experience and expertise in illuminated signage can help you light the way to your Brand.



SignPlan™, ASI’s proven approach to managing signage and branding programs from conception to completion

Never Stop Wayfinding…Do it for Your Hippocampus!




Over the course of my twelve years teaching within the signage industry, I have had the pleasure of learning many things about architectural signage including the thought, innovation, materials, design and craftsmanship that goes into producing beautiful yet functional signage solutions. For example, I learned and subsequently developed and taught topics related to wayfinding methodology, which has been a dominant organizational core competency throughout my company’s existence.

I recently ran across an article that explored the impact of technology overuse (ex. GPS) on the human brain, and low-and-behold, it led me to a wayfinding related topic that never really occurred to me: the exact part of the brain responsible for thought processes related to wayfinding…the Hippocampus!Picture1

The name Hippocampus is actually based on its resemblance to a seahorse, from the Greek word hippokampus (hippos = “horse” and kampos = “sea monster”). If you were to pull the hippocampus out of a brain you would in fact see the resemblance (please do not try this at home):Picture2

Not the most pleasant image, but now you have a visual reference for this discussion, so we’ll move on.

In addition to the belief that the hippocampus plays a role in forming brand new memories, neuroscientists also believe that the hippocampus controls our ability to navigate, form cognitive maps and spatially orient ourselves, all of which are primary elements of wayfinding processes.

It’s fascinating to better understand where wayfinding takes place in the brain, especially considering that the term wayfinding is still in its relative infancy. Kevin Lynch gets credit for first coining the term wayfinding in his book The Image of the City (1960), in which he writes about his findings from a five-year study of three cities, tracking how people navigated through a city using elements such as travel paths, districts, intersections and landmarks. Romedi Passini and Paul Arthur co-authored Wayfinding: People, Signs and Architecture (1992) to further articulate wayfinding as a spatial problem solving process, including more elements than signage alone, ex. the processes of formulating an action plan to navigate toward the desired destination and then implementing the plan.

If we were to describe how humans typically think when working toward a destination, in the form of a flow diagram, this is one way to represent the process:Picture3

This sample model is consistent with the findings of Lynch, Passini and Arthur, and as noted, the hippocampus supervises these thought processes.

Here’s a summary of what basically happens in the above diagram (moving left-to-right):

  1. Using environmental information and their own cognitive influence, the user builds a mental map (cognitive map) of their perception of the area.
  2. The user also uses spatial orientation to place themselves within their cognitive map, to give them a better sense of where they are situated within their cognitive map.
  3. The user then formulates an action plan of steps required to reach the destination.
  4. The user takes action (ex. moving left, right, straight ahead).
  5. If the user encounters trouble reaching their destination, they will determine what went wrong, amend their action plan, and execute the new plan.
  6. The user confirms that they have reached the desired destination, achieving wayfinding success.

And we now know that all of the above happens under the guidance of our friend the hippocampus!

Going back to the earlier technology/GPS reference to the hippocampus, I researched a number of articles that referenced the same well-known study published in 2000, in which it was found that London taxi drivers had a larger (with more gray matter) hippocampus than non-taxi drivers. It was concluded that taxi drivers had a larger hippocampus because they were constantly building cognitive maps along with their vast knowledge of the layout of the city. So, one can conclude that those who constantly think through wayfinding challenges can build and maintain a stronger memory and navigational skills.

On the other hand, there’s not enough evidence to firmly conclude that reliance on technology, such as GPS, will contribute to atrophy of the hippocampus. However, studies have indicated that we should understand the possibility that over-reliance of technology, including not using our God-given abilities to consistently build cognitive maps, spatially orient ourselves and make full use of our memory, could result in diminished cognitive and memory functions later in life.

As both a wayfinding provider and user, I enjoy the challenge of solving spatial problems with my mind, while appreciating technology that has bailed me out at as well. Wayfinding technology continues to evolve and we should embrace and consider new technologies that make life easier, more efficient and safer. Perhaps moderation, as with most things in life, is a reasonable approach that enables us to rely on technology as needed, but encourages us to use our minds and spatially solve our problems consistently and as often as possible.

So, get out there and give your hippocampus a regular and challenging wayfinding workout, it may very well thank you for it!


Andy Levine 2017


Graphic Design in Signage – who would have thunk it?


When I studied for my Associates Degree in Graphic Design I did not give much thought to the reality of what I would do with it once I graduated. Of course, I had dreams and aspirations of wonderful and weird graphics designs that I would achieve but which forum they would appear in, I had no clue. The day came that I graduated and my foray into the labor market began. When I placed my resume on employment sites, proudly announcing my Graphic Design skills to the world, I had little idea of where the opportunity would come from and it was with a great deal of skepticism that I took a call from ASI Signage Innovations indicating an interest in me and my graphic design skills – signage? Seriously?


I knew nothing of signage at all or even thought there was an industry for it. Who takes notice of signs? Someone really makes them?? When I was in college we were taught about different industries or enterprises that would suit our Graphic Design skills, like print shops or magazine companies, but nothing about signage. However, coming out of school, it was impressed upon me that finding gainful employment was now my paramount preoccupation so I went to my very first interview at ASI Signage Innovations and was intrigued about the possibilities to firstly, fulfill the mission of securing gainful employment but secondly, it seemed to present an opportunity to practically engage all the graphic design skills I had academically secured.


I found that my first job out of college was not so different from the classroom, but add four cups of coffee every day. We have deadlines to fulfill with sign designs, much like turning in homework except my homework gets turned into a really cool sign that I actually created!  This is all completely new to me, I’m still learning different techniques for designing, I’ve even got to the point of making an “idea board” from signs I’ve seen that I really like so I can have inspiration and ideas for future designs.



Initially, I was nervous about the sign design process because of all the “rules” or guidelines required to make certain signs, including a simple room sign. With designing a room sign there are size, font, color, and artwork guidelines to follow, but who knew about the ADA? In fact, I had no clue that braille was so important when designing a room sign or the fact that it was even required. My professors in college never mentioned braille at all in graphic design. As far as I was concerned braille was used in books for the blind. “Visually impaired” – never heard the term before.


“Sign families” – another new term for my vocabulary. There are so many different signs out there for different establishments and locations within the facilities. I was trained in college on typography and was taught that every font has a time and a place to be used, such as sans-serif font faces, mainly used for room signs so people can read the text easily. There can’t be too much text on a sign. I was taught in college that the human brain can only handle about 69 words on a line before a person gets lost in the text structure, and too small of text can be difficult to read from far distances.picture2

When designing signs almost anything is possible, of course within the “rules”. You can print on a material that looks like concrete, real wood, or you can make a sign have a 3D effect. I enjoy designing signs because of the wide range of printing options that can be done to the sign to give it a 3D effect or a certain material or color. When I am designing signs for our sign samples I usually have free range of my designs, but not- too-crazy in detail. Each design I make is hand drawn in Adobe Illustrator and put onto a mock up design I made to give the printer a visual of what we would like to print. Designs cannot be too small with lots of detail because it won’t be seen properly. For smaller sign designs I use simplistic designs with little detail so they are able to be seen without having to look too closely at the sign. At the end of the day my designs require a lot of work and I feel a great sense of accomplishment when I see the end-result and see the final printed version of my sign.


So, it’s a new world for me, and hopefully a “sign” of many years to come in this wonderful industry.


Kathryn Dault 2016

Computerized Vinyl Cutting


Computerized Vinyl Cutting

or The Past Shape of the Future

I first glimpsed the future of the sign industry after climbing into the back of a van sometime during the summer of 1983.
I was a new Design Director in Bay Area, at the time. The local sign supply house brought a new Gerber-IVB over, dragged an extension cord inside the shop and fired it up.
The gadget was pretty basic looking, as you see in a catalog pic from the time:


The old time sign painters just shook their heads and declared it to be the greatest abomination ever invented. In a few years, though, none of those guys were still around.
The crude metal shell hid pretty sophisticated and long-wearing machinery. There’s a chance one is gathering dust in your own shop.
With it, there was no such thing as loading a file and letting it rip. Nope, you had to keyboard one of the 12 proprietary fonts, each more crudely designed and letter-spaced than the other. A horrific version of Helvetica came with the machine but you had to buy others as plug-in font cards. To boot, this was the first time you could curve, squash or expand lines to fit, which led to all manner of text never before seen in nature.
Remember, Apple didn’t introduce the first Mac until 1983-84 and with it, the beginnings of a wide spread appreciation of type. Up to then, typography was specialized knowledge common only to professional art directors, sign painters and typesetters.
I contend the personal computer (especially the Mac) and the Gerber-IVB produced the first great disruption in the sign industry in hundreds of years. Before then, a lettering brush was the primary tool.
The groundwork had been laid a few years before by the introduction of what many grey heads still call Vinyl Die-Cut Letters.
3M produced self-adhesive vinyl sheet early on. Several manufacturers adapted the print finishing technique of die-cutting. They used old, sheet-fed letterpress equipment to cut individual characters, one at a time, at a pretty quick rate. Our pre-punched paper supplier still uses similar equipment.
One supplier in particular, Simple Space-Rite of Phoenix, still in existence, was critical to the development of our exterior fiberglass line.

picture2Original 1966 logo Depicting Simple Space-Rite’s Flagship Product


We would order just the characters they needed, this time cut from low-tack frisket material and pre-spaced on slick paper tiles. They were laid out on the fiberglass sign after painting with the graphics color. Then, after applying the background color, the letters were peeled off leaving correct and defined letterforms. A Matthews Paint matte topcoat over all and the result was integral, subsurface graphics far better than hand-cut or even Gerber output could provide.
In fact, the accuracy of the type-forms on our exterior signs was one of the selling points to designers then and a justification for a higher price than just about any other exterior sign at the time.
Another justification for the high price was (and still is) the amount of skilled handwork involved in their production. That, along with improvements in the vinyl itself, led to its long, slow decline in popularity beginning during a sharp economic downturn in the late ‘80’s.
Coming forward a few years, it wasn’t until the early 1990’s there were utility programs allowing virtually any file from Adobe Illustrator or CorelDraw to drive cutters. And, frankly, it wasn’t until a bit later dependable vinyl sheet appeared that didn’t shrink after a time, leaving behind a nasty adhesive and dirt halo.
Now, we cut and install vinyl with impunity in many different flavors. It wasn’t always this easy.


So what can we learn from this trip down memory lane?

There’s no Sense in Fighting the March of Technology

It’s bigger than us all.

Between 1950 and 1995, the changes wrought in all the graphic arts industries were unprecedented. Gutenberg would have felt right at home in a graphic design studio in the early ‘50’s. He could have picked up familiar tools and produced designs with the best of them.
However, that familiarity would have been short lived. With the entry of photocomposition, Letraset transfer type and IBM electric typewriters, things changed rapidly. Whole rooms full of skilled workers retired, were laid off or, for a lucky few, retrained.
The same happened with sign painters. As soon as the Gerber and plotters took hold, they were gone too.
The only way to survive using traditional techniques would be to reinvent and market yourself as an “artist,” practicing an arcane art for a select few. The meat and potatoes work went to new technology users who probably had no idea of their craft origins.
Many of the changes happened during economic downturns. Then, it made more sense to invest in machines than hire staff.
The best choice is to continually investigate and learn new technologies. Beware of those who either criticize on the basis of “quality” (technique only gets better as it matures).
An example: I’m just old enough to remember when phototypesetting, or “cold” output replaced hot lead (which had, in turn, replaced Guttenberg-like individual characters some 30 years before). I remember old timers railing against the newer typesetting that emerged from developer tanks as “just not the same quality.”
I remember when I moved to New York City in the early 1990’s and was amazed to find that the Macintosh and Desktop Publishing that was so common in Northern California, was derided by many New York designers “just not the same quality” as phototypesetting.
Some of these people were boyhood heroes of mine so, for a time, I believed them—at least until I realized what they were complaining about wasn’t type “quality” at all. In New York City, there was a robust support industry of phototypesetters who would, for a price passed on to the client, turn around typesetting in a couple of hours and messenger it back. The designer would then pour over galleys with an attitude of critical connoisseurship and mark them for another attempt at typographic perfection. This practice, although maddening for the night-shift typesetter, led to profitable overtime, cost overruns and, for a lucky few, the famed three-martini lunches.
In those halcyon days, all you needed in for capital investment as a graphic designer (or sign designer) was little more than a drawing table, a t-square and a triangle. An impressive office space (within bicycle messenger range of typesetters and photographers) could be the biggest expense.
Whether my grousing colleagues realized it or not, all that would come to a screeching halt with the entry of the Mac. All it took was another economic downturn and clients refused point blank to pay for endless typographic revisions, among other billable expenses.
All of a sudden, it became necessary to buy a Mac, a laser printer and expensive software like Quark and Adobe Illustrator. It became really expensive to be a designer. As a result, you’d be amazed at the fall-off in typographic quality during the transition. Equally interesting is how fast many designers deemed Mac typography, and their own meager operator skills, as “Just Fine.”
Never ending investment had reared its head graphic design and sign industries and hasn’t let up since. Resignation is the only rational response. It’s the price of success.



Ken Ethridge, AIA, RAS

ASI Business Development Manager


Navigating the Gray Areas of ADA Signage


This year, the Americans with Disabilities Act celebrates 26 years of ensuring that disabled individuals have the opportunity to enjoy their independence and fully participate and achieve in all facets of society.  On ada.gov, which is the U.S. Department of Justice’s website dedicated to educating the public about the ADA and related activities, check out the article Twenty Six Years of the Americans with Disabilities Act: The Lives, Faces and Stories Behind the ADA, illustrating real-life examples of how the ADA has positively impacted many lives over the past 26 years.

Though signage represents a very small portion of the content and scope of the ADA itself, its significance with respect to how signage providers design and develop signage solutions is tremendous.  Experienced solution providers must have a strong working knowledge of how ADA Standards impact signage, including knowledge of local accessibility codes, as state and local codes are sometimes more stringent than the ADA Standards themselves. Designers, architects, customers, everyone that we partner with depend on us to produce signage that complies with all related codes. Ultimately, individuals with disabilities depend on ADA related signage to address their needs as well.

Just like most types of legislation, the ADA has some instances of “Gray Area”, in which interpretation and practical considerations must be applied, and signage is no exception.  What happens when we find nothing in the ADA or local accessibility code that tells us that we can or can’t produce a sign with a special element? In fact, a critical differentiator between signage solution providers is the ability to use knowledge and experience to make accurate recommendations and interpretations when the ADA may not be 100% clear about a certain aspect of signage. Many sign companies know the ADA and its impact on signage, but how many of them can truly take on the role of “Trusted Advisor” with their partners and customers and guide them accordingly?

Following are some examples of signage gray area:


Pictograms on Restroom Signage

We are asked from time-to-time to clarify the question “Are gender-specific pictograms required on restroom signs?”. Technically, the ADA does not state that these types of pictograms are required. Your state and/or local accessibility code may note otherwise, so it’s always important to understand any differences between the federal standards and local code. Regardless, we typically see gender-specific pictograms on restroom signs even when not required. Why? It’s a common practice to include the pictogram so that those with visual impairments can more accurately determine their destination. And it can only help those of us with satisfactory eyesight, myself included. There are times in which we have to make a quick decision, and visuals such as pictograms make the process easier and   more accurate.








Please note that when these types of pictograms are used, the ADA provides standards to ensure that they are correctly applied. The field containing the pictogram must be 6” minimum in height, contrast must be sufficient, text descriptors must be placed below the field, and these descriptors must comply with standards for raised characters and Braille.

The ISA (International Symbol of Accessibility) pictogram is addressed differently in the ADA, which states that the ISA is required on signs identifying accessible restrooms when non-accessible restrooms also exist in the facility.


Raised Character Restrictions for Room ID Signs

One of our many mottos in the architectural signage industry is “Form Follows Function”, meaning that although design and aesthetics of signage is critical, first and foremost we always ensure that the signage functions perfectly while meeting all code requirements. We encountered a situation recently in which a designer proposed raising the individual characters on the Room ID sign types using standoffs, thus significantly elevating the characters from the surface of the sign. This type of method and design can produce beautiful custom interior and exterior signage, but is it viable within ADA standards for room identification?

The following is taken directly from the ADA with respect to the depth of raised characters:

703.2.1 Depth. Raised characters shall be 1/32 inch (0.8 mm) minimum above their background.

That’s it, there’s no additional verbiage in the ADA addressing a maximum depth of raised characters on Room ID signs. So, considering the designer’s proposal, as long as the raised characters meet all other ADA standards including san serif, width proportion, stroke width, character height and spacing requirements, the increased depth of the characters using special standoffs would not violate ADA standards (be sure to check your local code as well). We now have the green-light, right?

Not exactly. Whether the ADA is not clear or simply doesn’t address a certain signage scenario, experienced and consultative signage solution providers will examine the practicality of the solution, and more important the impact of the solution toward a disabled individual.  Though the proposed design did not appear to violate any ADA or code standards, our consultant had concerns regarding the practicality of raising characters in such a manner, maintenance/cleaning of this type of sign, increased possibility of character damage and breakage, and possible increased difficulty for blind individuals attempting to touch and read the sign information tactilely. The ASI consultant advised the designer accordingly so that we could take a different approach that was more practical but still aesthetic.

On the topic of creative ways to design Room ID signs, the 2010 ADA Standards introduced a new option for designers that permits the separation of raised and visual characters/numbers:

This is a viable option for designers as it allows more flexibility with the visual characters while adhering to standards for the raised information. For the optional design illustrated above, when working with visual (non-raised) characters, designers can use serif fonts, mix upper and lower case, and use bolded fonts (up to 30% stroke width), all for a more aesthetically appealing look, and without violating any of the raised character standards.


Gray Area Related to Sign Mounting Requirements  

The 2010 ADA Standards included new verbiage regarding the mounting distance horizontally between the sign and the door frame:

This latest standard was added for cases in which the door to an office, or other permanent space, opens outward instead of inward. The 18” by 18” clear floor space requirement helps to protect a blind individual from swing of the door while they are tactilely reading the sign.

So, in terms of distance from the sign to the latch side of the door, what’s the mounting requirement for the more common occurrence of an inward door swing?

Sorry, that’s trick question, as it’s not addressed in the ADA (again be sure to check your local code as previously noted).  This is yet another opportunity for experienced signage solution providers to apply a practical approach that will address the needs of the disabled while being aesthetically pleasing to the customer.  For example, installers may use a common accepted practice of mounting the sign 2” from the latch side of the door when the door opens inwardly.

There’s no disputing that the ADA has been instrumental in providing opportunities and protecting the rights of disabled individuals for 26 years.  The ADA may not account for every possible signage scenario, so following the intent of the ADA is critical when encountering these types of signage gray areas.  When we take this approach while applying our extensive experience and know-how, we can develop practical and consistent solutions that address the needs of the disabled as well as our customers.


Andy Levine 2016

Older posts «

Get Adobe Flash player