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Successful Sign Design: Informed by a Mosaic of Sources

As a sign designer, I bring to the drawing table a lifetime of influences each time I'm entrusted with a new design opportunity. Rather than having a default mode, I consider the needs of the client coupled with my skills, passions and resources in order to arrive at the most appropriate design solution.

Such was the case when I was approached in 2001 by the Colorado State University chapter of Kappa Kappa Gamma. They hoped to have a permanent and tasteful way to identify their beautiful sorority house located across the street from the campus. I began to consider how to design a sign, retro-fitted into the existing building.

Subway Mosaic Sign: Canal Street - CC-BY GryffindorI've always been fascinated with the mosaic signage and art found in the subways of New York City and various places throughout Europe. Mosaic decoration has a long history, stretching to around 2000 B.C. As it developed through the centuries, more sophisticated techniques and colors gave the artists the capability to create intricate detail with a painterly quality. The permanence of color found in glass and tile give the artwork a longevity not afforded through other mediums. Eventually, signs became one of the avenues through which mosaic art began to take form. 

The book Designage by Arnold Schwartzman is packed with inspirational sign images from around the world, largely in Europe and England. When my sign design zeal is flagging, I find a perusal of those pages always wakes me up to untapped options. A good number of the images in the book are mosaic pieces, delightfully decorating the facades of buildings with signage integrated into the architecture.

Kappa Kappa Gamma - Entry SignEncouraged by the possibilities of using mosaic in this sorority house, I proposed a basic solution incorporating their colors of light blue and dark blue. We decided on a simple mosaic design where I cut the glass and arranged them into the Greek letters representing the sorority. I then had Peter Farquhar, an expert mason who specializes in historic restoration, remove a portion of the "keystone" above the entry door and affix the new sign in place. This solution maintained the integrity of the building, identified the house without a sign in the yard and provided a non-fading, vandal resistant artistic sign.

Mosaic SignageI've personally viewed mosaic masterpieces like the Duomo di Siena floor, St. John's Baptistery in Florence, and the Intelligence Awakening Mankind mural above the west entrance of the GE Building in New York City.

Center section of "Intelligence Awakening Mankind"The unobtrusive Kappa Kappa Gamma plaque is a meager homage to those greater artisans, who have worked with their hands to portray beauty and meaning through their art. They are the ones who enflame my own creativity to stretch beyond mediocrity in serving the signage needs of my clients.

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