Reed v. Gilbert Session at APA Convention Attracts 500 People

The following article was written by FASI Board Member Alan Weinstein, who participated in the American Planning Association session.

The American Planning Association (APA) recently announced attendance figures for sessions at its annual National Conference held this past April in Phoenix, Arizona.  The session that focused on the Supreme Court’s June 2015 ruling on sign regulations, Reed v. Town of Gilbert, AZ.  organized by ISA’s James Carpentier, ranked #4 in attendance out of 170 sessions, and drew nearly 500 attendees.

James worked with the APA Arizona Chapter Host Committee to have the session proposal submitted on behalf of the Host Committee, which helped to ensure the session would be accepted.  The session, which James moderated, featured four speakers:

  • Mark White Esq., Principal in White & Smith, LLC, a law firm in Lee’s Summit, Missouri;

  • Wendy Moeller, Principal in Compass Point Planning, a planning consulting firm in Blue Ash, Ohio;

  • Professor Alan C. Weinstein, a member of the FASI Board, holds a joint appointment in the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law and Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State University in Cleveland, Ohio;

  • and Karen Melby, Senior Planner for the City of Sparks, Nevada.

White led off the session with a review of the factual background of the Reed case and an analysis of the legal rules established by the case. He focused on Justice Thomas’ majority opinion that established that any regulation which, on its face, requires that government consider the content of a sign in order to determine its regulatory treatment, is content-based.

Next, Weinstein, who also serves on the Board of the Academic Advisory Council for Signage Research & Education, discussed how courts have been applying the Reed decision in challenges to sign regulations. Professor Weinstein noted that, after Reed, some courts have struck down, as content-based, regulations that had been found to be content-neutral before Reed.  He also noted that no court had yet applied Reed to regulations of commercial signs and, while most courts had ruled that Reed did not apply to regulations that distinguished between on-site and off-site signs, one federal district court had found such a regulation to be content-based under Reed.

Moeller, who also serves as a Trustee for The Signage Foundation, next discussed how local governments can revise their regulation of temporary, non-commercial signs to come into compliance with Reed. This is precisely the type of sign at issue in Reed, so, unquestionably, the case calls into doubt any content-based regulation of such signs. Moeller’s advice on this issue can be found in a recent APA publication she co-authored with Professor Weinstein: “Practice: Temporary Signs,” in the February 2016 issue of Zoning Practice.

The final speaker, Melby, discussed how the City of Sparks, Nevada, had recently adopted a content-neutral sign code. Her remarks focused not only on what the code contained, but also on the process the city had used to bring stakeholders together to reach consensus on the content-neutral approach.

Penn State Study Examines Font Legibility

The Larson Transportation Institute at Penn State University conducted a study on font legibility through a grant from Gemini Inc. (Cannon Falls, MN), a manufacturer of dimensional letters. The following is the Executive Summary from the report. For information about the full report, contact Philip Garvey at pmg4@psu.edu.


Background and objectives

The enormous font selection available for on-premise signs fosters creativity, but also limitations, because of the unknown of a given font’s legibility at various distances. Although a small number of studies have broached this topic, this research effort is intended as the first to address the visibility of a large set of existing on-premise fonts.

Laboratory experiment

Method

The study was conducted at Penn State. Sixty-four signs were tested, using 34 unique fonts. The fonts were displayed as scale-sized, one-word, on-premise signs on a high-resolution computer monitor. Sixty-four subjects from 19 to 87 years of age participated. The legibility distance of each font was determined, and the effects of age, uppercase vs. lowercase, serif vs. sans serif, word-superiority, and art/word combination were evaluated.

Age group effect

The subjects were divided into three age groups. Not surprisingly, and consistent with earlier research, the young group and the middle age group were both able to read the signs from further away than the more elderly group.

Font effect

Large differences in font legibility were found. Gill Sans uppercase provided the best legibility, while Mistral lowercase had the worst. Also, simply choosing a font with a 5-ft./in. or larger ratio of distance to letter height insures better legibility, both statistically and practically.
 

Case effect

For all 31 fonts presented in both upper- and lower-case conditions, the upper-case words were more legible. In 22 of those cases, that difference was statistically significant.

Serif vs. sans-serif effect

There was no statistical difference between the serif and the san-serif fonts when shown in uppercase. A statistically significant effect was found in the lower-case analysis; however the difference was not practically significant.

Font family effect

Several fonts tested had more than one “weight,” such as bold or condensed.  The upper- and lower-case fonts were analyzed separately with the following results:

  • For upper and lower case, Times Bold was significantly more legible than Times New Roman.
  • For upper and lower case, Optima Bold was significantly more legible than Optima.
  • For upper and lower case, Garamond Bold was significantly more legible than Adobe Garamond.
  • For upper case, Helvetica was significantly more legible than Helvetica Bold, Helvetica Light and Helvetica Medium Condensed. Also, Helvetica Bold was more legible than Helvetica Light. For lower case, Helvetica was more legible than Helvetica Bold and Helvetica Light.

Word superiority

The 64 words showed large differences in legibility. The most legible word was Sunday, which was more than twice as legible as the least legible word, Crawfordsville.

Words and art

All of the signs tested included words and a graphic element. In 10 instances, the graphic directly related to the word (e.g., a drawing of a flower and the word “Flower”). This relationship minimally impacted sign readability.

Summary

This research sought to determine the relative legibility distances of a large set of fonts used on on-premise signs.  It allows users to compare legibility distances and make an informed decision about which font to use on their signs. Several results are clear:

  • Although font selection can significantly impact on-premise-sign legibility, many fonts have equivalent legibility.
  • Case (upper vs. lower) sometimes, but not always, can greatly impact sign legibility. Upper case often performs significantly better than lower case, at least under this study’s conditions.
  • The choice of serif vs. sans serif alone doesn’t measurably affect legibility.
  • Font weight can dramatically impact the distance from which a sign can be read. Fonts from the same family (e.g., Times) can have dissimilar legibility.
  • Word selection can greatly impact sign legibility. Not surprisingly, simpler, shorter words can be read at greater distances, regardless of font.
  • Matching a word to an image or graphic on a sign doesn’t, generally, positively impact legibility.

Villanova Professor’s Study Examines Value of Illuminated On-premise Signs

Professor Charles R. Taylor,  a marketing professor at Villanova University, and a Research Fellow at the Center for Marketing and Policy Research, conducted a survey of business owners as to the value of illumination for their on-premise signs. Surveys were sent to 750 business owners, and 333 useable responses were received. Here are some of the highlights:

The average business had 1.7 signs, which were lit for 13.9 hours daily. The average business was open for 10.8 hours per day, which indicates the need for identification even when the business isn’t open. More than 80% reported doing so, and 30% said their signs were illuminated 24/7.

Approximately one fourth of the respondents faced restrictions on their illuminated, on-premise signs. Most common was restrictions on the type of illuminated sign (24%); others were brightness (8%) and allowable hours of operation (3%).

On a scale of 1-7 (the higher the number, the more the respondent agrees with the statement), these business owners were asked to assess the following statements about an illuminated signs’ function:

  • Reinforces advertising as part of integrated marketing communications (6.14)
  • Brands the business’s location (6.14)
  • Enhances the store’s image (6.22)
  • Helps communicate the business’ location (6.19)
  • Brands the business even when it’s closed (6.22)

Respondents said restrictions on lighting on-premise signs inhibit their ability to effectively perform marketing functions. A majority said they would lose sales if government regulations prevented them from lighting their signs. They estimated this would cause a 21% loss in sales.

The full 31-page report can be found on The Signage Foundation website at

http://www.thesignagefoundation.org/Portals/0/Economic%20Impact%20of%20Illuminated%20Signs%20-%20Ray%20Taylor.pdf

What the Three Street Graphics Books Say About Signs

In 1971, the American Planning Association (APA) began distributing a book called Street Graphics and the Law, which was authored by Daniel Mandelker and William Ewald. It recommended the uncompensated taking of signs and governmental control of signs’ design, message and content.

The authors stated that their conclusions were substantially based on 1956 research conducted by Rockefeller University professor George Miller with regard to the human brain’s ability to process multiple bits of information. Yet, when Miller read the authors’ assessment of his research, he observed “The situation would be amusing if misrepresentations of my work were not being taken as the basis for enacting ordinances to control street graphics . . . I must strongly protest the distortion of my own work and must deplore the enactment of restrictions based on such an inadequate understanding of the psychological processes involved.” Miller’s 1000-word letter that denounces Street Graphics‘ interpretation of his work appeared in the April 1973 issue of Signs of the Times magazine.

In the following decade, several Supreme Court (SCOTUS) decisions overruled some tenets of the book. Subsequently, in 1988, the same authors revised the book as Street Graphics. It retreated from many of its restraint of trade recommendations, yet the majority of it remained intact.

In 2005, the third version, entitled Street Graphics and the Law, was released, and a third author, from the sign industry, was listed on the cover as a principal author. He wrote one chapter that included some Penn State legibility tables. Most of the rest of the book remained intact, but, by implication, it appeared that the sign industry endorsed the entire book.

Thus, this third version was viewed as significantly flawed, but a slight improvement over the first two versions. The question still remains, how good must good enough be? Two separate discussions of the 2005 book appear in the January 2005 issue of Signs of the Times magazine.