Vital Signs: For planners and local officials who draft, debate and enforce sign ordinances
Posted on April 8, 2019

National APA Conference 2019

It was great to see you at the 2019 National APA Conference in San Francisco!


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"Planning for Sign Code Success" Presentation
April 15, 2019

Final APA San Fransico 2019 Pr Historic Signs cover “Preserving Historic Signs” Presentation
April 16, 2019
25 Preservation Briefs Cover “25 Preservation Briefs"
Hollywood Sign Ordinance Cover “Hollywood Signage Supplemental Use District"

Additional Resources

The International Sign Association and the Sign Research Foundation develop research to guide planners and local officials when dealing with sign ordinance issues in your communities. 

EMCs    |    Sign Codes    |    Best Practices    |    Reed Decision    |    Economic Development

Download these free resources by clicking on the report covers below.



Night-time Brightness Level Recommendations for On-Premise Electronic Message Centers (EMCs)

Updated in August 2016, this EMC brightness guide is based on peer-reviewed research by Dr. Ian Lewin of Lighting Sciences, Inc. Dr. Lewin is a leading lighting expert with over 30 years experience in the lighting industry. Check out the new version, updated August 2016!


EMCs and Traffic Safety

Texas A&M University's Transportation Engineering School recently conducted exhaustive research on the traffic safety impact of on-premise electronic message centers (EMCs). This research is the first of its kind, and will provide local decision-makers with the fact-based evidence necessary to enact reasonable and beneficial sign codes.

This report also has an executive summary with a statistical analysis and three key takeaways from the original report.


Finding Common Ground

This document provides the latest information on how to properly and effectively regulate electronic message centers (EMCs) so that communities and businesses can benefit.

FWHA Study

Summary of FHWA Study Digital Sign Safety

The U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) released the results of a multiyear research study of driver visual behavior in the presence of digital billboards.

Examples of EMC Hold Times

Examples of EMC Hold Times

These videos demonstrate examples of various EMC hold times. Videos created and provided by Yesco Electronics.

Sign Codes


Model Sign Code - A Framework for On-Premise Sign Regulations

This report outlines the appropriate framework for communities to formulate on-premise sign regulations that respect both community and business interests. This document is most applicable to smaller communities – say those with populations up to several hundred thousand. These communities "typically" possess the variety of character areas that are the basis for the Model Code section. While larger cities may have many similar character areas they may also have a wider variety of unique areas that warrant special considerations that are not addressed in this model.


Model Sign Code - A Legal and Technical Exploration of On-Premise Sign Regulations

Unlike most modern sign codes which attempt to regulate on-premises signs on the basis of police powers, Urban Design Associates has drafted this municipal sign code for the Sign Research Foundation, which is based on the best available transportation planning and engineering research. This evidence-based approach to regulation seeks to ensure that signs, as commercial speech, are afforded some guaranteed constitutional protections. This report begins with a discussion of the legal issues fundamental to the regulation of on-premise commercial signs. Next, the report describes the technical research related to issues of the legibility of on-premise signs. The third section of this report features an evidence-based model sign code, crafted to reflect the identified legal and technical issues.


Building Stronger Communities

It doesn’t matter whether it’s a small town or large metropolitan area or something in-between, we all want the same thing in our communities - great quality of life. We might pursue that goal differently, but some basic ideals are universal: a strong and sustainable tax base, prosperous businesses, safe streets and aesthetic appeal. These are goals that city planners, local government officials and business owners strive to reach every day. An effective sign code can be a powerful tool to help achieve these objectives.


Best Practices

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Urban Wayfinding Manual

The Sign Research Foundation has developed a comprehensive guide to urban wayfinding from planning to implementation. This valuable resource explains system financing, design, regulatory issues, and implementation.


Best Practices in Regulating Temporary Signs
(Updated with Reed v. Town of Gilbert Supreme Court Case)

Compiled by prominent planner Wendy Moeller, AICP, this guide offers communities assistance in understanding different kinds of temporary signs and best practices for regulating each type.


Arts & Science of Sign Design

To be an effective form of communication, signs must incorporate the science behind artistic design principles. Any regulation must also take these factors into consideration to ensure that signs are both effective and safe. This document includes some of the latest research into applicable scientific principles.

Digital Print Trends & Technologies in the Sign and Graphics Industry

Digital printing is a key part of nearly every area of the sign and graphics industry. Lack of planning can cost thousands of dollars and hours while successful print management can create new innovations and foster new opportunities. This paper provides an overview of the technologies, methodologies and materials shaping the way designers, fabricators and manufacturers are navigating digital printing processes.

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Digital Wayfinding Trends – Lessons Learned from Museums, Healthcare, and Transit Experiences

Museums, healthcare facilities and transit systems have been particularly forward thinking with fusing traditional and interactive wayfinding, combining apps, indoor location technology, and digital and static signage to guide visitors in and around their facilities. This study explores eight digital wayfinding experiences across the seemingly disparate environments of art museums, hospitals, and public transit to learn what makes for the most successful and seamless blend of digital and physical guidance. Our goal is to assemble lessons in user experience and system design that can be applied to tomorrow’s digital wayfinding projects.

Wayfinding Management: Models & Methods in Healthcare Environments

This study investigates the people, processes, and tools that some of the leading large medical facilities in the U.S. have put into place to manage their wayfinding systems, from static signage to wayfinding apps. The case studies provide the basis for best practices that medical center leaders may employ as they establish or improve their own wayfinding systems and operations. Many of these best practices may be applied outside healthcare—to any complex facility that experiences churn and growth.

Typography, Placemaking, and Signs

Increased legibility research has led to more effective typefaces—but also more restrictive regulations. This four-part white paper series by Craig Berger includes the history, best practices, ADA code considerations, and case studies for the use of type in our environment and the future of typography.

String of Pearls: Improving Perception of a Built Environment

The mission of this project was to discover ways to change the perception of 11th Street in Tulsa, OK, through interventions in the built environment, from a negative image to a positive one. Route 66 should promote tourism but at the same time, create a destination for the people of Tulsa.


Reed v. Town of Gilbert Decision and Legal Issues

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The State of Sign Codes After Reed v. Town of Gilbert

View insights on the decision from Professor Alan Weinstein, a national noted planning law expert. Prof. Weinstein holds a joint faculty appointment at Cleveland State University’s Cleveland-Marshall College of Law and Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs and also serves as Director of the Colleges' Law & Public Policy Program.

Economic Development


The Economic Value of On-Premise Signage

The University of Cincinnati's Planning and Business schools recently collaborated to conduct extensive research on the economic value of signs to businesses and communities. This research will provide local sign code officials with the latest information on how signs help businesses communicate with customers, and how communities can benefit from improved economic activity.


Signs and the Downtown Experience

The report compares the effectiveness of different approaches to sign design with different strategies and economic trends. The analysis creates a clearer picture of how effective signs can enhance commercial institutions and play an important role in enhancing the community and environment.

Consumer Perceptions of Retail Signage: 100,000 Shoppers Can’t Be Wrong

Consumers learn—and assume—all sorts of things about a business based on its sign. This study by Dr. James Kellaris from the Lindner College of Business at the University of Cincinnati offers a wealth of insight into consumer behavior and provides key findings for retailers.

Retail Signage – Practices to Increase Return on Investment

This report explores the connection between high-level design practices (for sign legibility, viewing enjoyment, informational aspects, quality, appropriate scale and uniqueness) and return on sign investment. For this study, a group of executives, consultants, designers and fabricators were asked to compare these leading sign practices with standards for design excellence.

Retail Wayfinding Best Practices

Retail wayfinding—heavily driven by analysis and best practices—is set apart from other wayfinding initiatives. Profitable stores tend to be meticulous record-takers and constant tinkerers, always tweaking approaches in an attempt to attract customers. This report studies this dynamic and ever-growing field, exploring the way retail methodologies impact wayfinding, complete with numerous case studies highlighting creative and positive results.

The Economic Impact of Exterior Electronic Message Boards

Electronic message boards are increasingly used by businesses as exterior on-premise signage. Are these signs, which allow businesses to communicate more information at a lower cost, associated with better store performance? This research provides new insights into the benefits of investing in electronic message boards, based on the latest performance metrics from a major retailer.

Illuminated Sign Conspicuity – What Factors Make a Sign Noticeable and Legible?

Researchers at the Lighting Research Center (LRC) within Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute examined the visual effectiveness (conspicuity and legibility) of signage. The study began with a thorough review of 80 published research, technical reports, codes, and standards. Once knowledge gaps were identified, they explored several experimental pilot studies in those areas. This report summarizes these pilot studies, existing literature, technical reports and codes and standards related to the visual effectiveness of signage. An additional section of the report describes techniques for using an illuminance meter to estimate the luminance of a large-format, self-illuminated sign. Finally, several preliminary guidelines based on the project findings are included for maximizing the conspicuity and legibility of illuminated signs.

Topics: Research

Free resources

  • Night-time Brightness Level Recommendations for On-Premise Electronic Message Centers
  • Statistical Analysis of the Relationship Between On-Premise Digital Signage and Traffic Safety
  • Executive Summary: Digital Signage and Traffic Safety
  • Finding Common Ground: Answers to Common Questions about Electronic Message Centers (EMCs)
  • Differences between On-Premise and Off-Premise Signs
  • Video Examples of EMC Hold Times
  • Model Sign Code: A Framework for On-Premise Sign Regulations
  • An Evidence Based Model Sign Code
  • Signs and Federal Laws of Protection
  • Building Stronger Communities: Working Together to Create Reasonable Sign Codes
  • Urban Wayfinding Planning and Implementation Manual
  • Best Practices in Regulating Temporary Signs
  • The State of Sign Codes after Reed v. Town of Gilbert
  • The Economic Value of On-Premise Signage (1997, San Diego)
  • The Economic Value of On-Premise Signage (2012, Cincinnati)
  • Signs and the Downtown Experience
  • Executive Summary: The Economic Value of On-Premise Signage
  • Executive Summary: Signs and the Downtown Experience
ISA Planning for Sign Code SuccessTM
David Hickey, VP Advocacy

David Hickey
VP, Advocacy

James Carpentier, AICP

James Carpentier, AICP
Director, State & Local Goverment

Kenny Peskin

Kenny Peskin
Director, Industry Programs | @signcodeguy


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Sign Code Assistance, Education and Training

Is your community considering revising its sign code? Or are you looking for education and training for an upcoming APA meeting?

Contact to receive expert and complimentary sign code assistance:

  • Research on sign-related issues
  • Sign code education and training 
  • Planning, legal and technical sign code resources and advice

The International Sign Association (ISA) has helped hundreds of cities across the country develop modern, effective and enforceable sign codes.

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