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

How Big Do the Letters on Signs, Parallel to the Road, Need to Be?

As noted elsewhere on this website, “visual acuity” and “conspicuity” and “cone of vision” are very important for signs, because motorists must be able to detect signs, read them and then react to them in a few seconds. So how much does the visibility change when a sign directly faces the driver (perpendicular to the road) versus one that may be flat against a building fascia (parallel to the road)?

The Larson Transportation Institute at Penn State University studied this phenomenon in 2006 through a grant from the United States Sign Council. Much of the work involved a literature review of prior, related research.

Several factors impact the necessary minimum size for letters, so that they can be detected and read quickly enough for the driver to react:

  • Number of lanes of traffic
  • Distance from the road to the sign
  • The motorist’s speed
  • The angle at which the sign can be read

USSC has published a chart that ranges from a sign that’s 10 feet from the road when the motorist is in the curb lane, versus a five-lane road in which the sign is 400 feet from the road. In the first instance, the sign’s letters need to be at least 4 inches tall. In the latter instance, the letters need to be a minimum of 90 feet tall.

This study, entitled “On-Premise Signs: Parallel Sign Legibility and Letter Heights, may be accessed at www.ussc.org.

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.