Category Archives: Food for Thought

Some things are worth giving a little extra thought to…..

As a professional sign company, we see a lot of things that don’t follow general design ‘rules’. Sadly, some of those people that break the rules are from other sign shops.


But rules are made to be broken, right?


Well, no. Rules are there to keep everything on an even keel. Rules are guidelines that have been largely conceived from a lot of trial and error. Rules are, well…. rules.


Speed limits are a prime example. If a road has above average road accidents, the first thing authorities will do is lower the limit. The new speed limit is essentially a new rule for that piece of road. The second thing the authorities do is hide a radar trap in the area to catch those drivers that don’t think rules apply to them… but that is another subject entirely for another day.


Rules are in everything. Parents have rules for children (You can’t watch TV until you’ve done your homework). Employers have rules for employees (You can’t smoke in the canteen). Governments have rules for their citizens ( You can’t disobey a rule without paying a penalty).


But what has that got to do with design errors I hear you ask somewhat impatiently.


It is important to realise that good readable design also has rules. Tried and tested rules that define a good design against a poor design. If you ignore the rules, your message will probably be totally lost because people are more likely to concentrate on the confusing design more than the message.


Some DIY design errors are more common than others.


One design rule that is often ignored is the use of many fonts in each sign or poster.

Craig Minchington, in his article for Creative Blog, points out correctly that too many fonts just clutters the page and makes it harder to read. Two fonts and several weights are the general rule in poster and sign design.


Another rule often broken is coloured fonts on a coloured background.


Simone Sala points out in her blog ‘Typography cheat sheet’ that a general mistake is to use two tonalities that are too much similar to the point that distinguishing the words from the surrounding becomes very difficult. While this is irritating for most users, it’s generally a show-stopper for anyone with vision problems.


By far the most common mistake we see is the wrong font choice. This would be the rule that is broken on a daily basis when producing a DIY poster or certificate in-house by most DIY designers.


So what is the rule?


The rule is simply this – Never use a script style font in all capitals. With few exceptions, a script style font should only be used in an upper (Capital) and lower case format. It not only looks untidy but the spacing is nearly always wrong, especially when a flowery or feminine style is used.


There are some beautiful scripted fonts available, but they were never, by definition, designed to work as all capital letters in headings or definitive text.


Another problem with most scripted fonts is that some ethnic groups that don’t speak English as their first language, find these styles much harder to read. If you are doing a poster with an important message and the headings are all scripted capital letters, it is a fairly safe bet that the message will be lost on any reader who has poor eyesight or who has a poor grasp of the English language.

typoSo next time you are entrusted with using Word, Illustrator or Coreldraw to produce that certificate congratulating someone for a job well done, spare a thought for the readers who will have to see the thing week in and week out on the staff room wall. At least make it easy to read and not an assault on the eyes.


Lets all make sure that, if we are the person given the weighty responsibility to design a well deserved award certificate, we take that very seriously and we think of the reader as well as the recipient.


One is no less important than the other. More importantly, think of the poor sign person who has to look at the all capital script. They often lose the will to live just a little bit every time they see it. It’s not something that we’d want to be responsible for I’m sure.


There are many generous people in society, many just doing what they do without worrying about what financial costs or burdens, they just do what they think is right and hopefully the recipients appreciate the generosity in which it was given.


One such person is Carol M. Highsmith  , probably one of America’s best loved and most iconic documentary photographers. She has been documenting american lifestyle and iconic images for decades. She is at the very top of her field.


She is also a very generous soul, donating thousands of images to the United States Library of Congress at no charge since 1988, so the general public can have free access to her documented images. Congress calls the donation “one of the greatest acts of generosity in the history of the library”


Carey Dunne, in her article for the online publication Hyperallergic, tells us how it was discovered:


“Carol Highsmith received a letter from Getty Images accusing her of copyright infringement for featuring one of her own photographs on her own website. It demanded payment of $120. …. Highsmith came to learn that stock photo agencies Getty and Alamy had been sending similar threat letters and charging fees to users of her images, which she had donated to the Library of Congress for use by the general public at no charge. ”


It wasn’t just one or two photographs either. Over 18,700 of her photos have been claimed by Getty and Alamy as their own. Some included false watermarks and gave no credit to the original photographer at all.


The article goes on ….. “Highsmith has filed a $1 billion copyright infringement suit against both Alamy and Getty for “gross misuse” of 18,755 of her photographs. “The defendants [Getty Images] have apparently misappropriated Ms. Highsmith’s generous gift to the American people,” the complaint reads. “[They] are not only unlawfully charging licensing fees … but are falsely and fraudulently holding themselves out as the exclusive copyright owner.” According to the lawsuit, Getty and Alamy, on their websites, have been selling licenses for thousands of Highsmith’s photographs, many without her name attached to them and stamped with “false watermarks.”


Its not the first time Getty have been caught doing something illegal with other peoples images. They seem to feel they are beyond reproach.


It makes for an interesting read here .


The issue for those of us that use social media is, how do we know that Getty, Alamy or whoever aren’t stealing our photos and selling them as stock photo’s to unsuspecting buyers.


The truth is, we don’t.


The two instances that they have been caught fraudulently selling others images as their own is most likely the tip of the iceberg in what is out there illegally.


Can we do anything about it? We certainly need to be vigilant and be alert, but unless we are a high end photographer who would watermark their photo’s anyway, there is probably little we need to worry about.


The real issue is if we buy a Getty image and find out later they didn’t have the royalty free rights to the photo. We may find ourselves involved in an expensive and time consuming legal battle we are ill prepared for or can not afford.


When Getty Images bought Istockphoto, they paid $50m and that included all photos on their database. The assumption was that Getty own the contributors photos and that is what they’d like to imply, but the truth is, they don’t own contributors photo’s at all, they just own the rights to sell them for a commission.


Without doubt Getty are very aggressive in the photo markets they dominate. They have 200 million images available, are forming partnerships with many companies that own smaller competitors, opening their markets up to Asian centers that are basically untapped to this american giant.


With nearly 2000 employees around the world, clearly their thirst for dominance has landed them is some serious hot water. The case of Mrs Highsmith is a perfect example of that. Will they get away with this for less than a billion dollars? Time will tell.


Interesting times.


Tom Moore

Tom Moore, Creator of Archie character


Who can remember the iconic comic form our youth? If you can’t, you are clearly younger than the writer.

Archie and his Riverdale pals were given life by their creator, Cartoonist and Artist Tom Moore. From 1953 to the late 1980s, Archie was a staple read for the youth of the day. Sadly Tom has died of lung cancer in El Paso, Texas. He was diagnosed with throat cancer this week, and choosing to decline treatment, died on July 20, 2015.

According to his hometown paper, the El Paso Times, Moore began his cartooning career while serving in the U.S. Navy.

After being caught drawing a caricature of his captain, he made such an impression on those that saw his work, he was immediately assigned the gig as staff cartoonist.

A truly talented man, it was the start of what would end up being a long career illustrating for Archie, Under Dog and Mighty Mouse comics and comic strips.

All Star Comics Games owner Brad Wilson told the paper “He’s a legend, in El Paso and, really, around the United States,…. A lot of people don’t realize how much he influenced comic book art.”

Victor Gorelick, Archie Comics’ editor-in-chief, told The Associated Press: “Tom was very funny and had a knack for putting together really great, hilarious gags and special pages when he worked at Archie.”

According to Gorelick, Tom Moore was best known for drawing a reboot of the “Jughead” series in the 1980s. Jughead was Archie’s best friend and sidekick.Archie Comics launched almost 75 years ago and was reportedly inspired in part by the Andy Hardy movies of the 1930s.

Archie and the gang were associated with classic high school drama, however like most comics of the day, evolved to take on modern topics and add greater diversity to its cast of characters. Many youths could connect with the characters, such was his ability to read the audience.

Moore apparently maintained an avid interest in the Archie character after his retirement, and was pleased when some of his work was displayed at the El Paso Museum of Art in 1996.

“I think it’s such a kick that my stuff is going to be hanging at the museum,” he said at the time. “Who knew Archie would have such universal appeal?”

Goodbye to the ‘father’ of the iconic Pink Flamingo


Who remembers the lawn ornament that graced front yards and gardens in the days of our youth? Although a staple in American culture, Australian homes were sometimes adorned with these little creatures in places that had small yards and even smaller gardens.

79 year old Donald Featherstone creator of the pink plastic lawn flamingo, the ultimate symbol of American lawn kitsch was relatively unknown for his contribution to American culture, passed away on June 22.

Donald was a trained sculptor with a classical art background. He created the flamingo in the late 1950’s for plastics company Union Products, modeling it after a bird he saw in National Geographic. In modern terms, the classic plastic bird became a viral hit at a time when simplicity was the key to a good life.

Millions of the pink birds have been sold since the first production run. Featherstone worked for Union for over 40 years, inventing literally hundreds of plastic products in that time. He rose through the ranks eventually being installed as President of the company before his retirement 16 years ago.

Sadly, he died in Fitchburg, Massachusetts after a long battle with Lewy body dementia.

So next time you see a Plastic Pink Flamingo, it may pay to reflect on the talent of a classic sculpture who became a father to the garden ornament on a larger scale.

Wos is das?

A while ago now, 3 generations of Drew’s were working on site at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary.

A great place, run by dedicated people, doing good things for our wildlife.

So, when you work there, the ethic of helping tends to take over.

It is no surprise then, when tourist see you working in a uniform, they ask you all sorts of questions.

It doesn’t matter that your uniform isn’t green, with a totally different logo on it to the sanctuary uniform. Nor does it seem to matter that you are installing signs with drills and ladders and non animal stuff.

Tourist see you in a uniform so you must know the mating call of a wombat, or the distress call of a Tasmanian Devil, or the directions to the ladies loo.

Most times we did our best to answer but some questions were pretty hard to understand.

One Japanese woman started yelling that she had been there 15 minutes and hadn’t seen any animals. I was a bit surprised given that we were only a few paces from the Kangaroo enclosure that was teaming with the little critters. When she calmed down, I asked her what she wanted to see in particular. “Anything!” was the reply. ‘Well’ I said in my best tour guide voice ‘ if you’d like to follow this path, the Kangaroo enclosure is just beyond that gate’. I did the hand gestures and everything. Everyone knows if you can’t speak the language, just raise your voice and point with your hands. It works wonders.

“KANGAROOS? I don’t want to see them, I want to see Birds.” was her response. So I pointed her in the direction of the bird show and she went on her way, not before giving me the look that gave me the impression that if she didn’t like the birds, I was going to be held responsible.

Apart from Japanese, we also me a lot of Indian, Italian and German tourists.

One thing that was pretty obvious from the start is that safety cones defining a ‘no go’ area mean nothing to the overseas tourists. We had people stepping over the cones to get into our work space, playing with the cones, and manhandling our unfinished signs.

What is Indian for ‘Don’t Touch’ anyway?

The second sign we installed was beside a staff only gate. While I was working, I was conscious of this very attractive woman with admirable assets trying to get my attention. Wanting to be a good ambassador for the sanctuary, I finished what I was doing and asked if I could help her.

She looked at me, pointing to the lock said ‘Wos is das?” Looking down I said it was a security lock.

She pointed to the lock again and said “how doo I git in?” I told her very politely that she needed to buy a ticket at the shop behind her, and go through the main gate.

Then, she looked at me and said “Wos is das?” and started pointing to her breasts.

I considered telling her the obvious but I figured she probably already knew that. I wasn’t sure of the answer she was looking for, or if I was on candid camera, so I opted for the safe option and said ‘Pardon?’

She started throwing her chest out and said “Wos is das…. un my Breast?”

The first thing that came to my mind was ‘freckles’ but I don’t think that was the answer she was after either. I opted for ‘Pardon’ again.

“Look! My Breast! Wos is das un my Breast?

At this point I was very conscious of my son watching his dad being encouraged to ogle at a very attractive woman’s assets.

I then realised she had droplets of moisture on her skin. I was so close to her breasts it could easily have been the perspiration from my forehead. I began wondering how I would explain this to the wife after my son gave his interpretation of the event. All I could think to tell her is that it may have been rain.

“Rain? From da sky?” she said somewhat disbelieving. “Nothing dangerous” I said.

She seemed happy but my son was less than amused.

‘Dad’ he said ‘ there isn’t a cloud in the sky’

He was right. But if it wasn’t rain, it was probably bird pee, and I was not going to go down that path with a young woman who saw nothing embarrassing about shaking her bootie in the face of a middle-aged man in full view of everyone, especially his son.

The Psychology of Colour

Colour choice is an important step in designing everything from signage to point of sale advertising.

It has been the subject of many blogs and industry articles over many years, yet DIY designers often make fundamental errors in the getting their marketing message across to the buying public successfully.

In this day and age where everyone has a PC and a design program, some simply ignore the basics in colour compatibility. It’s a science that many don’t take the time to study.

A good resource worth reading is “The Psychology of Colours, a guide for beginners.”

Grab a cup of coffee, settle into a comfy chair, then have a read.

Recently I was met by a traditional sign writer that found it very hard to hide his contempt for me, and those like me, that practice the ‘digital new age’ concept of his traditional trade.

I hasten to add that no one is more in awe of our traditional sign guys and girls, whether it be in the brush, airbrushed or pastel applications, than me.

But I was more than a little amused when he labelled ‘my type’ as wannabe’s and impostors.

Strong words that I found rather confronting.

I’m the first to admit that there are plenty of my Digital colleagues out there way better than me. Just as there are plenty of Traditional sign people who are better than our digital colleagues as well.

Clearly, some traditional signies have embraced the digital age and use both forms to ply their trade. Some, though, have not.

As a wholesale print supplier, most of my own regular clients are traditional screen printers or old school sign painters that either have no intention of going digital, or don’t understand the software to make the machine sing. Some of my clients willingly admit that they are technologically challenged, some just have no interest in the art form that is the digital realm.

Whilst most have vinyl cutters, the growth of the digital print industry has clearly overrun them and some are not happy.

Then you get the shops that buy a machine because they can afford it, but find after a few months it is just too hard or the industry was more competitive than they had first anticipated.

I was talking to several reps recently and they all told me the same thing – a fair percentage of units purchased will be back on the market within 12 to 18 months.

As an example; several years ago I was doing small print jobs for a computer cut sign company out west. It was nothing stunning in terms of turnover, but my client developed a niche business in the farming industry and used me to produce the prints quickly, and his clients were none-the-wiser.

All went well until he rang me one day, thanking me for my support, telling me he was going to buy his own machine.

I was a bit concerned as, unless he wasn’t telling me something, the business I did for him was not going to be enough to support a machine on its own.

He dismissed my concerns and asked who I’d suggest he approach to buy a printer. He wanted the same setup as me, so everything would be the same. I suggested the company I purchased from.

I heard back later that he rang that company, and his order was for ‘everything that Shane had’. To his credit, the sales rep looked at his business, his turnover and his position, and advised him that he wouldn’t have enough business to warrant buying a machine. The sales rep actually declined to sell him one.

The sign guy, not to be deterred, went to an opposition supplier and purchased one from them. Interestingly, that supplier has since gone bankrupt.

To make matters worse, the sales person stitched him up good and proper by supplying all his ancillary materials on the same 5 year lease as his machine. This effectively increased his monthly lease payments by a significant amount.

Eight months later, I get a call asking if I would takeover the lease of the printer he’d purchased. As I had two already I declined. He then admitted he was about to go bankrupt. He realised having his own printer was a bigger burden on his cash flow, than if he just purchased what he needed when he needed it, and made a mark-up on each sale. It was an expensive lesson to learn. He was very upset that I didn’t try and talk him out of the idea originally. I reminded him of our conversation, and suggested I was not his keeper. He couldn’t, and shouldn’t, blame me.

But I digress.

After my rather confronting conversation with my new traditional sign painter friend, I did actually have a reality check some weeks later. I understood the lesson the traditional sign writer was trying to teach me.

You see, I am a mad keen photographer. Not weddings or anything like that, but landscape and animal photography mainly.

Having had my own dark room years ago, I’m more a traditional photographer. I like to think my best shots are through the lens without software manipulation.

It totally frustrates me to see photos that are heavily photo shopped for instance, winning awards for photographic excellence. It drives me to distraction. It is clearly not a photographic talent, but a Photoshop talent. There is a difference.

In my humble opinion, a good ‘traditional’ through-the-lens photo is infinitely better than an ‘average’ photo that has been enhanced electronically.

But like my new friend, the traditional sign writer said, these digital new age people are impostors. In this instance they are photographers that rely of software enhancement when it comes to ‘real’ photography.

It was only after this, my own experience, did I truly understand my ‘traditional’ colleagues pain.

Lesson learned.

Social Media – Good or Bad for Industry?

Social media has become well and truly entrenched in people’s lives these days, and the general computer user and more importantly businesses, have seen the popularity grow from its nerdy-ness into the phenomenon it is today.

Understandably many business owners of all sizes have ‘jumped on the social media bandwagon’ with a business Facebook page, which is now generally accepted as almost as important as a web page address.

The popularity is hard to ignore. One Australian State Government, Queensland, has dedicated a full web page encouraging its benefits.

The Queensland government has acknowledged Facebook’s low cost marketing strategy as a key component for SME’s, making the point that “marketing activities that would cost thousands of dollars through other channels can be used on Facebook for a fraction of the cost.” That is certainly true.

Another key component that Facebook addresses and the most SME’s would normally find difficult to afford is that Facebook “can increase your business’s profile by encouraging existing and potential customers to click the ‘Like’ button on your Facebook page. Once they like your page, your customers will receive your updates on their wall, where their friends will also see them. This helps to build awareness of your business, and to associate your friends with your brand. Customers can also post positive messages about your products or services, shared on their walls for all their friends to see.”

Online newsletters like GIGAOM are full of advice in making Facebook a positive experience for all business. But the one thing that is blatantly clear is that it is just a modern form of an old idea – Business Networking

Networking is simple concept but, when if it is done well, pays dividends in the medium to long term. A good salesperson becomes a better salesperson as they improve on their networking skills. Add good communication skills, and sales become easier and more consistent. Of course a key component to communication is also trust. Trust is earned of course, so a good network isn’t something that happens overnight.

Therein lays the Achilles heel of social media. As good as Facebook is, the one thing it has a poor record in is conveying trust. Why? Because Facebook makes it so much easier to be deceptive. There is plenty of evidence with various reports and scams that pop up from time to time.

It has generally become a good tool though for our industry. It lets businesses interact with their peers easier, lets us share ideas, enables us to see the progress of others and the jobs they do. It gives us ideas, if they are shared, and it shows potential clients what we can do and what we specialize in.
Various niche markets are already well developed, and Facebook showcases that really well.

One area of concern that is raising its ugly head though is those members in our industry that are developing Facebook pages critical of others in their application techniques, designs and failures. We are essentially seeing a ‘bully’ culture develop, and it’s not a good image for our industry members that participate in such negativity.

As our industry grows, our members grow at different rates. Our manufacturers have various levels of training, and for that they should be commended. The Australasian Professional Vehicle Wrapping Association is being formed to give some ownership and direction for those members who want to constantly improve and contribute to a more trustworthy profession and image. Members of our industry are always learning, or should be, as like any profession new techniques are developed over time and materials are introduced that need new application techniques. No industry goes forward by stagnating, no matter who they are.

Participating in Facebook pages or forums that bully learners, or ostracize those with failures isn’t something that we should be proud of or participate in, and it is disappointing that some feel the need to do it. One thing to remember is that unless we know the story behind the failures, we have no right to be critical. Let me give you three examples to consider.

Example 1.
Some time ago, my sign shop was supplied a new material from a well-known company. On paper it technically fitted the bill for the job at hand. When the time came to install the material we found it was difficult to lay and didn’t act as was expected, by either our installers or the supplier. Eventually the job was finished and everyone was happy. Next day, we got a call to tell us the material was failing. We arranged to have a look and take photos. Yes it was pulling up from the edges and yes it was a mystery. We sent photos to the supplier for their comment. By the time it was sorted, several days had gone by. The supplier withdrew it from the market deeming it was clearly faulty stock. We went back and replaced the signage with another brand and all was sweet. But, if photos had been taken by the ‘bully’ sign shops and placed on their Facebook page, with no explanation about the problems we encountered, it would appear that we were totally incompetent. As a lot of these bully groups are by invitation only, we wouldn’t have known, but it would have easily undermined trust for us in the industry, especially with those that knew it was our contract.

Example 2.
Our sign shop has had some long term contracts for many fleet vehicle owners. One year one of our regular clients informed us he was doing a 12 month promotion for a local tourism group. The tourism client insisted on using their own sign shop to do the signage as they had a good working relationship and had a contract with them to supply all signage. My client let me know that this job was going to another sign shop and the reasons for it.

When the job was done, the other sign shop must have used the cheapest material they could find. Within days it was tenting in the creases, pulling away from the edges and was clearly a poor job. We found out later that the job was given to the 2nd year apprentices as a ‘test’ of their ability. Photos started appearing pointing out the poor quality and failures.

How did it affect my business? People who knew I had the contract assumed I had done the job. Once again, if these had been picked up by these ‘bully’ sites and placed on their private Facebook pages, my name would be tarnished when I was totally innocent.

Example 3.
We were employed as contract fitters for a local company to fit their supplied signage. On arriving we found it was produced in China. There was no overlap on the large panels, it was un-laminated, and it was on a low grade material. We expressed our concern that it would not be suitable for the intended purpose. The owner agreed and was sympathetic to our concerns, but as the shop was opening in 3 days, he asked that we ‘do our best’.

Under the circumstances, the job came up really well, but anyone doing the job professionally would have seen that it was a poor quality sign and ‘incorrectly’ finished. Once again, without viewers knowing the job history, it could easily be assumed by my peers that we did a poor job. The ‘bully’ sites would have had a field day.

So although Facebook is a great tool for business, it can also be a good tool for the losers and bully’s that take delight in making fun of others without knowing the story behind the image.
But if we want to collectively make the industry a better one, then it would be better to help rather than hinder. There really is no place for a bully in any business. If we need to improve our application skills, do courses put on by one of the suppliers. If you admire someone’s work, tell them. Praise is always better than abuse.

End of the day, everyone started somewhere. Those laughing at the failures of others forget that they probably had the same failures when they started. We have some brilliant craftsmen and women in our industry, but the best craftsmen and women are those that help others improve, nurturing the next generation of applicators rather than those who pull others apart and destroying dreams.