Penn State to Present Lighting Study at American Planning Association’s 2017 National Planning Conference

Penn State University’s Philip Garvey, the Senior Research Associate at the university’s Larson Transportation Institute, will be a featured speaker at the American Planning Association’s 2017 National Planning Conference. His session, entitled “A Guide to National Sign-Illumination Standards,” will be presented on Saturday May 6 at 2:30. He will be joined by his colleague, Jennie Nolon Blanchard, and Cleveland State University Professor Alan Weinstein.

The APA website’s preview of the session states, “Take the guesswork out of developing lighting regulations for signs. Learn about new, first-of-their-kind national sign-illumination standards, based on research conducted at the Larson Transportation Institute at Pennsylvania State University.”

FASI Awards First Collegiate Scholarship to Michigan State Student

The Foundation for the Advancement of the Sign Industry (FASI) has awarded the first of what it hopes will be numerous scholarships to collegiate members of the Academic Advisory Council for Signage Research and Education (AACSRE). Stephanie Onwenu, a junior in the Landscape Architecture program in the School of Planning, Design and Construction, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at Michigan State University (MSU), has been awarded a $1,000 scholarship.

Dr. Pat Crawford, Associate Director of Planning Design & Construction at MSU stated, “Stephanie is part of the research team exploring perceptions of on-premise signage in urban streetscape environments using the IBM VAS software. She will also be exploring, first hand, urban signage in Spain, the United Kingdom and Italy during her study abroad in March and April 2017.”

In a letter to FASI, Stephanie wrote, “This opportunity will allow me to compare and contrast the various ways and forms that signage is manipulated around the world. Following on into the next school year, I plan to begin my Masters in Environmental Design [MED] graduate courses through the dual-degree program here at MSU. For my area of study, I plan to include an element of focus on signage in urban designed spaces.”

Wade Swormstedt, FASI’s executive director, said, “FASI is very proud to assist in the education of college students with an interest in signage. FASI hopes to announce many more of these scholarships throughout the year. FASI believes such scholarships support the groundwork laid by the National Signage Research & Education Conferences [NSREC] sponsored by The Signage Foundation.”

FASI (www.fasi.org) is dedicated to serving as a resource for the on-premise sign industry, and a clearinghouse of information for and about on-premise signs. FASI strives to proclaim the societal benefits of on-premise signage, and to support the efforts of on-premise sign organizations, including associations, universities, trade publications and end-user groups. 

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

Gemini Grants $100,000 Scholarships to Incoming Univ. of Minnesota and Michigan Students Wade Swormstedt May 12, 2016

Gemini Inc. (Cannon Falls, MN) has awarded two $100,000 Ross Wagner Engineering Scholarships. The four-year scholarships will go to Matt Moskal, a senior at Cannon Falls High School, who will attend the Univ. of Minnesota. Bjorn Pearson, also a Cannon Falls senior, will attend the Univ. of Michigan.

For the full story, go to http://www.signweb.com/content/gemini-announces-ross-wagner-scholarship-recipients

Duke University Economic Professor Applies “Game Theory” to Signage

David McAdams, an economics professor at Duke University, has authored a paper entitled “The Economics of On-Premise Signs” in conjunction with the United States Sign Council. In it, he contrasts the philosophies and ramifications of sign codes in Henrietta and Brighton, New York — two communities with similar demographics, both of which are near Rochester, NY. Henrietta’s sign code will allow up to 80 square feet of signage, while Brighton limits it to 30 square feet.

In the paper, McAdams assesses the Strategic Rationale, which suggests that, if one company benefits from a larger sign, other businesses will suffer. This has also been referenced as a “zero net gain.” McAdams counters, however, that better signs will encourage other businesses to acquire better signs, which will create more business for everyone, and benefit the town in the form of higher tax revenue.

An overview of the McAdams paper can be read at http://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/STMG/sott_201512/index.php#/92. The full study is available from the United States Sign Council website, http://www.ussc.org/USSC-publications.php

Texas A&M Studies EMCs and Traffic Accidents

In 2012, Texas A&M University’s Texas Transportation Institute conducted a study to see if EMCs cause traffic accidents. Research included data from the FHWA’s own Highway Safety Information System (HSIS),a comprehensive database of crash records from several states. They identified 135 cites in which EMCs had recently been erected. Researchers used the empirical Bayes method to perform a before-after statistical analysis of the safety impacts of what was called the on-premise digital signs.

The research team used digital-sign installation information provided by sign manufacturers to identify locations in selected states where digital signs had been installed in the 2006–2007 time frame (this time frame was selected to provide adequate numbers of crashes in both the before and after periods).

HSIS data was studied two years before and two years after the on-premise digital signs were installed. For example, if a sign was installed in 2006, the “before” period was calendar years 2004 and 2005, and the “after” period was calendar years 2007 and 2008. The surveyed area was 528 ft. (0.1 miles) before and after the signs. HSIS data was available for California, North Carolina, Ohio and Washington.

The researchers wrote: “The results of this study provide scientifically based data that indicate that the installation of digital on-premise signs does not lead to a statistically significant increase in crashes on major roads. The overall results show that there is no statistically significant increase in crash frequency after installing the on‐premise digital sign. Based on the analysis performed for this research effort, the authors are able to conclude that there is no statistically significant evidence that the installation of on-premise signs at the locations evaluated in this research led to an increase in crashes.”

For the full report, go to http://www.thesignagefoundation.org/Library.aspx.

Also, to read about the Federal Highway Administration’s study of EMCs and traffic accidents, go to:

https://fasi.squarespace.com/config#/pages|/rhetorical/2016/4/15/electronic-message-centers-dont-cause-traffic-accidents

Penn State Study Provides Optimum Lighting Levels

Illuminating signs, including electronic message centers (EMCs), at inappropriate lighting levels hurts everyone. If the LEDs that light the sign aren’t bright enough, then the sign won’t be legible at night, and the sign loses its nocturnal value. The energy used to light the sign is wasted.

Conversely, if the LEDs are lit too brightly, everyone also loses. The “sometimes more is less” axiom holds true, because when signs are lit too brightly, they become illegible. Plus the excessive brightness upsets people. Excessive energy use is coupled with ineffectiveness. Additionally, when LEDs are lit to intensities in excess of their intended use, their lifetime is exponentially shortened. And, once again, energy is wasted.

So, what is the “just right” illumination level?

The United States Sign Council commissioned The Thomas D. Larson Pennsylvania Transportation Institute at Pennsylvania State University to make this determination, specifically for LED illumination, in 2015. USSC has been working with Penn State (PSU) since 1996, and this collaboration has subsequently produced 18 research projects directly related to optimum usage of on-premise signage.

PSU surveyed EMC manufacturing companies and asked their opinions about optimum lighting levels, but there was no consensus. Nor did prior research on the subject produce a consensus. So PSU set up two EMCs on its track at the Larson Institute and 48 licensed drivers (an equal number of males and females). They read two words in 12-in.-tall letters from a distance of 360 ft. in eight sign-color combinations.

Full study here.

University of Cincinnati Professor Researches the Importance of On-Premise Signs To Shoppers

Better Homes & Gardens magazine conducts annual surveys with its subscribers as part of The American Grocery Shopper Study™. Over a three-year period (2011-2013), University of Cincinnati professor Dr. James Kellaris added questions about the importance of on-premise signage. Here are the three-year summaries (presented chronologically) of “yes” responses to specific statements:

“One of the first things I notice about a new or unfamiliar business is the signage outside its building.”

2013 76.0%, 19.1%, 4.9%

“In addition to identifying a business, signs can convey the personality or character of the business.”

2012: 85.7%, 11.9%, 2.4%

2013: 83.9%, 14.5%, 1.6%

“The letters on signs should be large enough for passing motorists to read at a glance.”

2012: 90.9%, 8.4%, 0.7%

2013: 91.4%, 7.8%, 0.8%

“I get frustrated and annoyed when signs are too small to read.”

2012: 81.5%, 13.7%, 4.8%

2013: 83.0%, 13.9%, 3.1%

“Smaller signs are generally more attractive than larger signs.”

2012: 13.5%, 52.1%, 34.3%

2013: 14.1%, 51.3%, 34.7%

“Uniformity of signage within a business district looks attractive, but makes businesses harder to identify ta a glance.”

2012: 62.7%, 30.15, 7.2%

2013: 69.5%, 26.9%, 3.6%

The survey also asked respondents: “What make signs difficult to read?” In order of importance, their answers were:

The letters are too small (83.3%)

The placement of the sign makes it hard to see (71.4%)

The sign is not sufficiently lit at night (63.6%)

The color of the letters does not stand out from the background (60.3%)

Digital signs change the message too fast (52.6%)

University of South Carolina Professor Asks Business Owners to Evaluate their Electronic, Changeable-message Signs

Hendrikus E.J.M.L. van Bulck is an Assistant Professor of Business Administration at the University of South Carolina Sumter. He teaches marketing, entrepreneurship, small-business management, financial management, accounting and strategic management. He is also a partner in Van Bulk Partners, CPAs, LLC, where he is responsible for corporate planning and business valuations.

Van Bulck surveyed the 36 Sumter businesses that had programmable, electronic, variable-message signs (EMCs) for their businesses.  The businesses included 20 retail stores, five gas stations, six service-oriented businesses, five fast-food restaurants, five pharmacies and three banks. Here are some of their observations:

  • More than 85% of the respondents said the EMCs “helped bring in more customers”, and 25% “strongly agreed.”
  • 83% said the sign “measurably increased sales.” 17% “somewhat disagreed,” but no one “strongly disagreed.”
  • 89% agreed with the statement, “The LED sign makes people more aware of the location of the store.”
  • Only 8% said “Customers found such signs unattractive.”
  • 92% said the signs “were easy to update.”
  • 89% would “recommend the sign to other businesses.”

Study: The Value of Signs

Formal Report: Details