At Bay, Part II: Sign Post

June 10, 2016

Signs (Made of Letters from the Signs in the Article)

You are reading Part II of the At Bay series. If you missed Part I, I suggest reading it before you continue.

I elected to capture some of my San Francisco Bay Area trip this January and February in a photographic survey of (what I believe to be) exceptional signs. I chose signs from businesses, towns, and parks: anything that piqued my interest. I have also included extra goodies.

I may as well begin with the sign that gave me the idea for this article:

IronWorks Lofts Logo (Metal Lettering)

This sign for IronWorks Lofts has an attractive, tasteful sheen, and, complete with its being inset into a girder, it clearly conveys the “IronWorks” concept. The closer you look, the more you will notice how lovingly this sign’s creators rendered the nuts that form the “o”s. They have a realistic screw mechanism all the way through. No one had to do that, but someone did it anyway.

Next, a unique sign for Figaro Gelato. This one does a metaphorical handshake with my personal taste and has a creative quality I rarely see in logos:

Figaro Gelato Logo (Wonky Pairings of Letter Styles)

Besides general creativity, ingenuity, and personality, I think a good sign should convey either the feeling associated with a product/service or the feeling the makers want you to associate with their product/service. Although I have not tried Figaro gelato, I can say with reasonable confidence that their above sign achieves those criteria in that it colors my experience of Figaro: if I were to eat the gelato, I might even believe it tastes better because I love their sign so much, or perhaps the gelato is somehow as creative and jolly as the sign portrays. (I hope so.) The next sign, that of the AA Lock company, expresses an entirely different personality:

AA Lock Logo

“AA Lock” could have a dreary sign. It doesn’t. It evokes security imagery, such as a key, a set of buttons for dialing a code, and a combination lock (that inventively imparts the company’s founding date). Its mostly-bold type feels similarly sturdy. Lock companies usually aim to inspire trust that would-be thieves cannot crack their locks, trust that their locks will not break, and trust that their locks are the best available. AA Lock’s logo design choices give off this feeling while arranging the visual elements in a novel shape, drawing presumably-custom “A”s, and creating its own distinctive overall style. Some would call it visually overcomplicated, but having many elements does not (on its own) a bad logo make. Some simple logos look inspiring and others not; some complex logos look like havoc embodied (in a bad sense), while others benefit from their intricacy.

Talking of logos both simple and distinctive, they do not get much better than this:

Pixar Campus Entrance

It was a special treat to see it in person.

On the walk toward Pixar, I could not help but notice this street signage spoof, apparently part of the “Signs of the Times” series of public art installations:

Human Figure Kneeling & Fiddling with Giant Question Mark

The next sign lay among tall trees. Muir Woods, as I now know after visiting for the first time (and for too short: a mere half hour or so, due to time constraints caused by a parking dilemma) has a lush entrance crowned by a handsome piece of woodwork:

Muir Woods Entrance Sign

The light, while wondrous, obscures part of the sign. I hope you forgive the photographer.

I tend to like national park signs. Their workmanship often reveals as much care put into the sign as into the park. The next sign in my survey, while not a park sign, connects thematically in that it represents the Redwood Inn:

Redwood Inn Sign

I like that the typography does not feel cheesy because it avoids overly literal references to to its theme. The sign-makers invented their own personality that somehow fits. Throughout the “emblem expedition” covered in this article, I sought signs with typography that caught my eye, and the Redwood Inn’s sign met my criteria enough to warrant pulling over and walking some way down the sidewalk to photograph it. The city of Berkeley (to veer away from San Francisco, home of the above Redwood Inn) evidently shares my respect for surprising typefaces with a distinct personality, down to the logos embossed onto their city trash bins:

City of Berkeley Logo, on Trash Bin

Ages passed before I noticed the "abstract, map-like lines" were in fact faces.

I doubt I have ever seen city signage so unafraid to have a personality. To my disappointment, however, not all signs in Berkeley match the above example in execution. At this point in the article, I will demonstrate what happens when sign designers fail to consider whether people can comfortably read their signs:

Berkeley Bowl Sign, Building Side 1

This Berkeley Bowl market sign strikingly resembles Apple’s OS X Display Calibrator test: not a compliment to its legibility.

Berkeley Bowl fared a little better with their sign on the other side of the building:

Berkeley Bowl Sign, Building Side 2

Ladies and gentlemen: use caution. The sign ahead cannot be read by anyone, and it may say something devastating:

Well-Camouflaged Roosevelt Middle School Sign

“Easy to read” does not always mean “good”: a company called “World Secrets, Inc.” might, for instance, disguise its signs so that they could only be seen by people who know where and how to look. In most cases, however, one important goal of those who erect signs is to announce something. Is it really an announcement if no one can read it? I hope to steer clear (or at least translucent) of the “if a tree falls in the woods...” discussion, but in any case, the information in an unreadable sign cannot reach anyone.

Before an eons-overdue update on the fate of my trip to the O’Reilly Design Conference, I want to close this section of my article with two more legible, pleasant sign specimens. First comes another city sign, this time creatively representing Rockridge, a district of Oakland:

Rockridge Sign

I am peachy keen on this shade of yellow.

Finally, I come to The Trident, a lovely marine restaurant, both in the sense that it sits on the water and in its emphasis on seafood:

The Trident (Restaurant) Sign

With a final whack of the hammer, that concludes the ground-breaking of the “Sign Post” part of this article. As an epilogue, I would like to report on an episode I had hoped to round up over two months ago.

My Time at O’Reilly Design

O’Reilly Bird Dancing on a Lilac-Colored Background

In an earlier post, I let loose my excitement leading up to the first ever O’Reilly Design Conference, to which I fortunately obtained a ticket. The conference took place at Fort Mason:

Fort Mason

A timid fellow lingered outdoors:

Large Metal Device with Face Drawn on It

And indoors, the main stage hosted many a talk (including one by Tony Fadell, a “father of the iPod” and founder of Nest Labs, whose talk I missed in a disappointing bumble/fumble of the mind):

Conference Main Stage Entrance

I saw some superb talks, including one on storytelling from Pixar’s Christian Roman (a delightfully ironic first-last name combination), and, in what I knew would be the highlight of the conference, a thoroughgoing, thoroughly non-ordinary talk from Eli Schiff, with whom I shared a long and meaningful brunch several days later.

This conference, and my time in California, meant a lot to me.

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