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Friday Design: Sign-Making Quick Tip for Vertical Text

February 3, 2017

Happy Friday, dear readers! Another day, more things to do. It sometimes seems like the to-do list grows faster than we can get things done and if you’ave added sign-making to your list of things to do, today’s design tips are for you. I want to just take a bit of time to talk about signs, but specifically signs that run their type vertically.

You’ve probably seen a banner or sign like the one below before. Either attached to a lamppost or held up at a march or rally. Tall, slender signs sometimes call for running type vertically. You shouldn’t stack type vertically–you know, one letter on top of another without rotating the letters–but sometimes it does make sense to run type vertically given space constraints. But is the sign below easy to read?

banner attached to a lamppost showing text running from bottom to top for reading

I’d argue that it isn’t. We won’t get into issues of typeface choices, but just focus on how to properly run text vertically on a sign. When do you ever read from the bottom to the top on a sign? Rarely, if ever, I’d guess. It goes against just about every natural reading instinct we have when reading and every design idea about information hierarchy. When reading English, it is most natural to read from left to right and top to bottom. If you are going to run text vertically, so we have to tilt our heads to read it, you need to make your text so we read it from top to bottom.

Where do you see this done correctly? On bookspines, of course. The photo below is of part of a bookshelf in my office. Notice that every spine that runs the text vertically does it so the viewer reads from top to bottom.

photograph of book spines showing that text runs from top to bottom of spine for easy reading

This is the logical way of placing text to make it easy to read and gives it more impact. Don’t work against your readers natural reading habits for creating signs. Use them to reinforce your message.

So, whether you are making a sign or banner for your library or one for yourself, run your text properly from top to bottom if you need to rotate your text. Don’t stack the letters without rotation and don’t make us, your readers, read from bottom to top. And that’s your quick design tip on sign-making today. I’ll be back with more design tips soon.

Until then, enjoy some lovely February graphics in the form of Valentine’s Day Icons and February desktop wallpapers, both from Smashing Magazine.

I hope you have a wonderful weekend, full of creativity, productivity, and meaningful interactions. Remember, graphic design can seem a bit frivolous, but that’s only if you don’t harness its power for communication and for action and for resistance. As Neil Gaiman reminds us, “Make Good Art.” Allons-y!

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