Design Makeover: Electric Signs


Gardner Sign

…it looks good on paper and on the truck. On the sign outside the business itself, it’s not legible from a distance…


Gardner Sign, located in the small Maryland city of Salisbury, started in 1985 as a manufacturer and installer of electric signs. “We built our own signs,” says owner Butch Gardner, “and we installed signs for other companies, like ones that McDonald’s or Burger King might ship in.” Over the years, though, the business has evolved to keep up with new sign-making technology. “We’re a commercial shop now,” Gardner continues, “doing a lot of vehicle lettering and sign work. We also have an embroidery shop and a screen print shop.”

The company’s identity hasn’t kept up with the times quite as well, however. The current logo, for example, was created a few years ago by an employee at the firm. Gardner likes some aspects of it, such as the bright green and the swoosh shape. He says it looks good on paper and on the truck. On the sign outside the business itself, it’s not legible from a distance, he says. It’s recognizable once you know what it says, but it’s too hard to read. It works on the back of his truck because the drivers behind him have time to puzzle it out. But it doesn’t do the job for people driving by on the street.

What Gardner would like a new logo and website to communicate is that Gardner Sign does high-quality work using the latest technology. His identity has to appeal to a variety of customers, though. Salisbury is in a rural area, and Gardner says that his relationship with some regular customers is like a “good ol’ boy network.” At the same time, while there aren’t a lot of corporate clients in the area, he wants to be able to project a more professional image when it’s appropriate. “We try to be what we need to be at the time we need to be it,” he says. With that in mind, we asked three designers to help Gardner Sign be the best it can be.



DESIGNER: David Joyce
I thought the Gardner website was too dark and cluttered with vibrant colors that distracted from the content. The company is very modern and uses the latest technology, so using a corporate-looking, shiny, and sleek aesthetic for the design would be the obvious thing to do. But that can make a website feel overly pretentious and impersonal; instead, I opted to use a warm and approachable vintage look that feels very honest and down-to-earth.

I started by choosing soft, warm colors: I went with a dark earthy brown background that plays nicely off of the fresh, bright green. The main logo, the main navigation, and the body text are given a slightly yellow, off-white color that helps the text pop out from the dark page background but complement it at the same time.

For the logo, rather than keeping the familiar corporate swoosh, I turned to the vintage font Satisfaction from E-phemera. Satisfaction has a very distinctive capital “G” that helps it stand out, and using a script typeface gives the logo a human and approachable feel while remaining professional. The word “sign” is set in Neutraface Titling, and the rest of the page uses variations of Gotham.

Front and center on the site is the branding with the contact information. The main navigation was simplified to the five core products of the company. It’s placed right below the branding and set in a light-colored bar so that visitors can see immediately what Gardner has to offer. The footer contains links to other parts of the site, and those same links are mirrored in a secondary navigation in the upper right of the page.

The new logo and website puts a human face on the company that should appeal to the “good ol’ boy network” that the business relies on. At the same time, the corporate clients are greeted with a refreshingly approachable and friendly site.

David Joyce] [
Dave Joyce is based in the beautiful mountains of East Tennessee, where he works remotely with clients all over the world.

Dave graduated from East Tennessee State University in 2007 with an Information Technology degree. Design has always been his passion, however, and designing specifically for the Web has always been his delight. Dave started building websites while still in his teens. He feels it’s a fantastic medium to design for, as it offers unique challenges with unique rewards. As he writes on his own site, “Web design is like no other graphic medium. It requires a perfect blending of form and function.” Visitors need to feel immediately comfortable, and they need to want to spend time on a site. Creating an aesthetic that fits with the company and makes visitors feel at home is critical.

Dave has been freelancing full time for two years and is always looking for new design challenges.




DESIGNER: Jonathan Robertson
As a graphic designer who often subcontracts out work to this type of service provider, I would expect the Gardner Sign website to display the same characteristics present in their work: creativity, precision, attention to detail, and above all, an air of professionalism. The company’s branding should demonstrate they care just as much about their own image as their clients.

Starting with the logo, I first took the step of removing the word “Incorporated.” Letterheads and invoices will already contain the full company name, so I didn’t think it would be a problem to drop it from the logo. Plus, it would give us more design options and help the logo become more legible by reducing the amount of characters. I did want to retain the dual identity of the current logo: one part serious and professional, one part a little wacky and colorful. For the word “Gardner,” I used Amplitude Heavy, a nice solid legible weight with a slight twist (the angular cuts). For “Sign” I went for Angelina, a handwritten typeface that has really nice curves and, again, is easy to read.

I gave the homepage a much more concise menu bar with just four items, and below that I placed six large “stickers” that act as buttons leading to the main sections. The stickers are each tinted in a single color, but when you roll the cursor over one, it turns full color and has an overlaid title that describes the section. Each section contains a main page that shows a couple of example photographs and some intro copy about the services they offer.

If all the currently empty “coming soon” pages on the Gardner site were finished, I think there would be too many pages for a potential customer to navigate through. My suggestion would be to give each section at most two pages, highlighting case studies and listing their other services in the category.

Jonathan Robertson
After completing a BTEC in Graphic Design at Calderdale College in Halifax, West Yorkshire, England, Jonathan was ready to go out and earn some money. Unfortunately, this was in 1992, design studios in the North of England were just introducing the Macintosh, and Jonathan’s portfolio mainly showed traditional techniques. He took a job as color separation artist at a local textile and wallpaper company and pursued three objectives: buying a color Macintosh, teaching himself how to use the applications, and redoing his portfolio.

Three years later, he landed his first job as a design junior in a studio in Halifax. Two years after that, he decided to go freelance and has never looked back. He now manages a steady stream of clients from his home studio in Todmorden, England (approximately one hour north of Manchester), and also works in-house at some of the region’s most creative advertising and design studios.

Adobe Illustrator CS4 and Adobe Photoshop CS4



DESIGNER: Samuel Barney
Upon first viewing the Gardner Sign logo and homepage, my reaction was that the logo had plenty of color, but there needed to be a better correlation between the colors and the site itself. My first goal for the logo was to come up with something similar in shape but with a less blinding contrast of colors. I selected a similar but gentler color scheme using Adobe’s Kuler color theme generation site, and I imported it into Photoshop for the logo design process.

Then I played with the site’s existing black background with gray menu bar. I thought that instead of a black background I would try a shade of gray, and it worked out well.

Once I had the color scheme and general layout brainstormed, I focused on what should go on the homepage. I decided to lay the menu of popular services over an image slide show so as to use the space to its fullest. After that, it was fairly easy to decide on three sections underneath the slide show. One section contains updates from a blog, Twitter, or similar source that refresh the site’s content frequently for SEO purposes. The other two sections present the map and directions, and an About Us page that can provide testimonials and other information to get users to click through to the next page.

The goal for a site like this is to get the viewer to call or email the company. That means the contact information needs to be present everywhere, so I put it in the page footer that will appear throughout the site. Finally, promoting the 25 years of service in large text shows a sense of stability that most users will respond well to.

Samuel Barney
Sam fixed his first computer at age 8, back when Space Invaders for DOS was the only game to play. At age 14, he made his first website and, along with it, his first dollar as a creative mind on the Web. After working for Echostar—the parent company of DISH Network—Sam began pursuing the IT profession. He worked for several startups and was eventually offered a job with an auto-restoration company as a webmaster and senior IT supervisor.

In 2006, at age 21, Sam got tired of working for the other guy and founded After Spark Media in Dallas, Texas. Since then he has expanded his capabilities and the company and now employs motion graphics and numerous frameworks to construct Web portals and mostly professional informational websites for clients in the Dallas region, ranging from financial planning firms to construction companies to dog breeders.

Adobe Photoshop CS4 and Adobe Kuler Desktop App