Architectural Signage vs. Commercial Signage
A Comparison Guide for Understanding the Differences, Benefits and Features of Each Category
What defines a commercial sign? It’s easy to identify a commercial sign when looking at popular fast-food restaurants and service stations, but it gets harder to define when the signage solution is a higher-end retail store or “one-of-a-kind” branded signage solution. Architectural signage is usually associated with corporate towers and hospitals, but architectural signage can easily be found in retail or hospitality environments. To help determine the differences, this guide will focus on four common features:
- Brand Identity
- Materials and Construction
- Facility Integration
Functionality and Brand Identity Determines What Kind of Signage Solution Will Work Best for the Client
There is an old saying in architectural circles that works for determining signage: Form follows function. Once you determine and define the need or the function that the sign will provide, the form the solution takes will reveal itself. For example, if you need 500 branded signs that all look the same and will fit into the environment the same way, then you need a commercial signage solution. If you need a solution that complements the architectural environment, incorporates brand identity, higher-end building materials, and is built to last, you need an architectural signage solution.
- Commercial Signage Features
- Designed to be viewed from a distance
- Mass-produced for brief life-cycles
- Exposed seams and fasteners acceptable
- Dominated by brand identity, typically “bright and loud” coloring and materials
- Architectural Signage Features
- Designed to be viewed up close
- High attention to detail
- No exposed fasteners and seams
- Built for a long life-cycle
- Integrates brand identity, architectural design and building materials
Clients are concerned with properly presenting their company’s brand identity, and promoting the brand identity through architectural signage is just as important to get right as it is in any other form of advertising or marketing efforts. One particular challenge has to do with the architectural style of the facility. This is where commercial and architectural signage head in different directions.
Commercial signage defines the retail “box” structure with branded identity wraps that cover a portion of the facility. Architectural signage, by contrast, serves to complement the architectural design of the facility while incorporating and promoting the client’s brand identity. While brand identity is clearly visible in architectural signage, it is usually not as dominating as commercial signage.
Architectural signage has three requirements:
- Match the architectural environment/design
- Accurately communicate a wayfinding message
- Integrate the client’s brand identity
- Materials and Construction
Commercial signage is usually mass-produced for retail establishments, but this does not mean they are cheaply-made signs. The fabrication techniques require exacting brand replication and performance based on a viewing distance of approximately 20 feet. Because commercial signage is usually mass-produced, it usually incorporates heat-formed or molded plastic elements that fade in color and crack when they outlive their intended life-cycle.
By contrast, architectural signage uses materials commonly found in the exterior architectural design and is built to last. This means aluminum, stainless steel, glass, stone and other natural materials. In addition, there is a higher attention to detail expected, such as no visible seams and screw heads.
Architectural signage materials and construction:
- Aluminum and steel (stainless or brushed)
- Natural stone (marble, granite, sandstone)
- No exposed or visible fasteners
- No obvious seams, highly-detailed construction
- Facility Integration
Commercial signage defines a retail facility more than any architectural element or feature. Retail establishments are built to enable frequent tenant changes, and commercial signage providers work within the “box store/tilt-wall” design to create commercial signage solutions that wrap the facade. In addition, stand-alone commercial signs are typically mounted onto large exposed poles, whereas architectural signage is incorporated into the landscape design of the facility.
Architectural signage complements the architectural design of the facility by incorporating building materials used in the facility. In addition, architectural signage is built to last for many years with proper maintenance. In addition, seamless modular panels can be incorporated into architectural signage to allow for brand identity or tenant updates.
Architectural signage complements the facility
- Commercial signage defines the facility’s exterior
- Architectural signage complements, integrates and enhances the architectural design
- Both commercial and architectural signage provide site identity solutions, but architectural signage is the best method for communicating the wayfinding solution for the facility