A Growing Awareness of Signs & Type

“Signs are way-finding systems, but they are not just about navigation; they are about how we understand the environment. Signage is a component in our visual landscape, in the same way that architecture is, and industrial design. They are all parts of a very large system of how we read space and how we see ourselves.”

– Stephen Banham, Letterbox Design Studio

When signs make the news, it’s normally in an incidental sort of way – like when a truck hits one. Signage is everywhere but it is so omnipresent that most people hardly notice it. Of course, we signmakers are constantly stopping to inspect a fine hand-lettered specimen or a set of beautifully decaying metal letters – This habit sometimes annoys our friends – but for the unwashed masses, signs are occasionally read and very rarely admired.

However, there seems to be a gradual shift towards greater awareness of signage and typography. Recently, I saw an article entitled “Signposts point to a Font of Knowledge”, not in Signcraft Magazine, but in a mainstream newspaper (The Australian), interviewing Stephen Banham and Nadine Chahine about signs and type in Melbourne. Known as Australia’s “Cultural Capital”, Melbourne has probably a higher level of design awareness than most cities. After all, it even has a café named after a typeface (Helvetica). But the growing number of type- and signage-related websites and blogs reveal that signs are starting to be regarded as an art form (rather than just boring, functional “information boards”) in every quarter, not just the Garden City.

After all, we can’t let Melbourne have all the fun! Here’s a few pictures of classic metal letters (of which this area has a rich tradition), all within three minute’s walk of our shop:

Wrought Iron Gate Letters

A Gate on Brae Street

Metal Letters on a Gate

Metal numerals slowly shedding their paint

Wrought Iron Lettering

And finally, the pièce de résistance, a wrought iron gem on Wade Street. Once rectangular, this sign has now developed a stylish curve. I’ll admit, I flipped this image, so I could capture the sunset light behind, without mirror-writing.