In every country you’re likely to visit, there are millions of signs greeting you and showing you where to go. Whether you’re following road signs from the airport or you’re exploring a city centre, these signs are ubiquitous, helping us find where we’re going and showing us attractions, or highlighting hazards, as we go. This article explores how these signs are actually made – and what sign producers and planners have to consider before they place signs in millions of locations around the world.
Signs take planning. Sign planning agencies come in various different kinds. For instance, highway signage is usually managed by highway agencies that are also in charge of keeping roads clear and useable. City signage, meanwhile, is planned and executed by local municipal councils. Some signs are designed and created by individuals or community groups in order to highlight a certain attraction or community centre – and may need approval from the relevant authority.
The most complex planning system for signage is undoubtedly the road system. Here, in the UK at least, you have millions of signs at every junction and motorway exit to inform motorists about where they’re going, the road names they’re taking, and the different mileage they’re going to be travelling to reach each destination. This means that maps have to be consulted – and locations picked – to make sure signs are accurate and helpful before a sign is erected.
Most signs that are exposed to the open air are made of aluminium composite panel produced by international companies such as Multipanel in the UK. These panels can be sold in bulk to agencies like the highway agency or individually to organisations and individuals who wish to erect their own signage.
The aluminium used for road signs is just one aspect of the sign’s creation, of course. It provides a stable and sturdy base for the printed material on the sign, which is added after the creation of the panel and must be rust-proofed in order to live long on the verge of motorways and roads. Finally, when erected, these panels are housed onto stands – or attached to existing structures like lampposts to be seen by motorists and pedestrians alike.
The erection of a new sign needs to be noted down in a record of signage systems so that the managers of national signage systems know when they might need to replace a sign or when a new road will entail new signs. You see this take place when you spot a motorway sign that has been edited – usually via an additional strip.
These systems are incredibly complex and take a high level of management to ensure that signs are not misleading or incorrect as the road and pathway system in each country around the world evolves and grows. So when a new road is planned and built, these systems inform planners of the road signs they’ll need to change, bringing the entire system up to date.
There you have it: the three stages that every road sign or city centre sign will have to go through before they’re placed for years to help the public.