Thursday, February 7, 2008

Revealing Advertising Intent and Suggestions for the Re-Design of a Costume Shop Window Sign

A maladroit mess of a sign currently lurks behind the plate glass windows of Lucy In Disguise, a costume shop (est. 1984) in the boutique and restaurant-lined South Congress area of Austin. The purpose of the sign is primarily to advertise the different types of costumes available at Lucy In Disguise, but also to convey a funky, eclectic feel that Austin oozes (or at least thinks it does) and to project the store's unique brand identity.

Unfortunately, the sign fails to fulfill any of its intended goals. It firstly fails to advertise anything because the lack of a hierarchy for the text renders the message unclear. Without significant variation in font size there seems to be as much emphasis on costume descriptions like 'ethnic' and 'thru' as the word 'COSTUMES' itself, and giving each word or phrase its own decorative font makes each the most important and yet not important at all, because all vie for the viewer's attention with equal gusto. And if that wasn't enough, even the fonts chosen seemingly have nothing to do with the words they form. The movie reel decorating 'ADULT,' spelled out in Times, adds nothing but confusion to what is essentially an informal, yet informational phrase describing costume variety. I am left wondering, "Does a West Coast Choppers style goth font really say "TUXEDO?" The lack of a clear voice ringing out over the clamor turns the jabbering into a visual cacophony that even the most 'visually impaired' will inevitably steer clear of.

Successful and recognizable South Congress establishments create a unique identity mainly through the use of one-of-a-kind, often handmade graphics and artefacts, from hand-painted lettering to bizarre sculptures. Bright, bold, and surreal figures recalling some bygone psychadelic era embellish the Lucy In Disguise marquee directly above the sign. It is a spectacle with a twofold purpose: to draw attention and convey the South Congress kisch aesthetic. It's surprising, then, to find this sign, so obviously made on a computer with little thought given to the unique artistry that makes the hand-painted marquee above it so captivating. Without the handmade aesthetic, it seems that the computer-generated, commercially-produced-and-printed sign is out of place.

In redesigning the sign, my first goal was to create a hierarchy and emphasize the store's most basic function as a costume shop. I put 'COSTUMES' in big bold letters across the bottom, while maintaining the sentence/list of the costume variety from the original. This way, the viewer reads 'COSTUMES,' and suddenly 'PERIOD,' 'ETHNIC' and 'FAIRYTALE' make a lot more sense. Organization of the sentence-list of costumes should correspondingly become more of a dense, slightly less legible entity on the page, to minimize its importance to the main idea ("we sell costumes"). Clustering words together makes words appear to be 'spoken' in rapid succession one after another, encouraging the passerby who pauses to read more than 'COSTUMES' to read what they will quickly, absorbing as much of the message as possible.

The liberal use of color without abandon was clearly a request on behalf of the store's owner. In keeping with these perceived wishes I elected to use all six major colors and a black background. Layered blocks of clean, crisp Helvetica the way only Illustrator could render it pile on top of one another haphazardly, suggesting a conversely restrained and relaxed feel appropriate for an eclectic costume shop with a name and acid trip undertone from the 60s but with 80s roots and a current existence in a post-modern world. The primary colors resonate wildly but never overcome the subduing black on top of them in the costume list text block, and 'COSTUMES' in yellow tops the secondary colors and black, creating a visceral, attention-grabbing, biologically-based response that implores the viewer to read further and remember either loving or hating the loud, rebellious window poster.

Admittedly, the handmade aesthetic is gone in this treatment, but I have found it is ultimately intent and execution in response to context, not method, that renders a sign like this relevant and effective.

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