Field Notes: Two Sided Signs

Isaac Kremer/ April 17, 2023/ Field Notes, Physical/ 1 comments

Almost every sign has two sides. That’s why it is important to cover the front as well as the back. Otherwise you get examples like this from Metuchen, New Jersey, where there is content on just one side. Material does not need to be duplicated. Every side and angle is a selling surface and should be treated as such. A simple “Welcome to Metuchen” message, or something artistic or creative given the concentration of artists here, or even a sticker would break up the blank and weathered/faded surfaces. This would help to achieve what Jeff Speck calls the “interesting walk” in his book Walkable City, by giving people artistically and aesthetically pleasing surface to look at during their walk. Having wayfinding on one side (even if designed primarily for cars) does not mean that the other side needs to be overlooked and neglected. Make it look good for all people passing through the space and the sign will create extra value for the cost it took to erect it.

This example of vehicular wayfinding sign in Albion, Michigan, is both attractive and also designates as people are “entering” and “leaving” the Superior Street Commercial Historic District in Albion, Michigan. There is one pole but two signs with a slight difference of messaging on either side.

The Youngs Home sign in Oyster Bay, New York is identical on each side. Apparently at some point it had a single base at the bottom, though this was likely lost in an accident or by wear and tear (the sign is dated 1932). Identical text shows an awareness that the sign has two sides, though the lack of variation on each side leaves one wanting a bit more.

Large corporations get it too. This gateway entrance sign has directional information with distance to neighboring locations. Entering the Tanger parking lot one clearly knows where they have arrived. Exiting they have clear directions where to go next. This is effective use of both sides of the sign. Note even the side between the two faces has branding on it.

This wayfinding signage example from Ferndale, Michigan, has a distinctive design with place name and curvature reminiscent of a historic building feature from a building in Ferndale. The panels have descriptive text about the community and historic sites on both sides of the sign.

North Adams, Massachusetts, vehicular wayfinding sign is also on a pedestrian scale and allows for mirroring on the back because of the symmetrical shape of the sign contained within the rounded curved support and poles.
The Downtown Heritage Trail sign in Washington, DC, is designed to be viewed from both sides, also thanks to its symmetrical, albeit somewhat boxy shape.
Similarly, the movable Spoleto Festival USA sign in Charleston, South Carolina can be viewed from both sides and also has the schedule of programming and events to make it easy for people to find the performances they are looking for.
A simple statement on the back of the Wayfinding signs in Somerville, New Jersey, carries the message Welcome to Main Street Somerville.
Montclair, New Jersey, sign is symmetrical, allowing the possibility to be viewed from both sides.
In instances when there is not a back to the sign or it is not easily viewable, placement against a background that limits viewing of the blank back of the sign is possible. Here is an example from Greeley Square in New York City, with landscape planting beds behind this wayfinding sign.
The Hammonton, New Jersey, wayfinding sign, while not symmetrical allows for treatment on both sides. Additionally, it carries supports for street banners and parking wayfinding, all in the same palette of colors, which relate to place branding efforts and the identity as an “Art District.” The Eagle Theater is a well regarded arts anchor in the downtown.

Wayfinding signage example from Middletown, Connecticut. These three panels are contoured around a light pole. They help with navigation and provide descriptive information about the Main Street district. No side is wasted.

One final example, also from Metuchen, New Jersey (and just feet away from the wayfinding sign featured above) orients people and cars to the Lincoln Highway. Recognizing the three-dimensional nature of the marker, a simple arrow is placed on the blank side to show the direction and orientation of the Lincoln Highway.

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About Isaac Kremer

A nationally recognized downtown revitalization leader, downtowns Isaac managed achieved $350 million of investment, 1,300 jobs created, and were 2X Great American Main Street Award Semifinalist and a 1X GAMSA winner in 2023. His work has been featured in Newsday, NJBIZ, ROI-NJ, TapInto, and USA Today. Isaac is a Main Street America Revitalization Professional (MSARP) with additional certifications from the National Parks Service, Project for Public Spaces, and the National Development Council.

1 Comment

  1. The sign in Metuchen you reference is a vehicular way-finding sign which is one sign type in an extensive, well received and effective way-finding system. Since the purpose of a vehicular way-finding sign is to guide & direct drivers, it is ridiculous to think that the back of the sign should something on it.

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