As Promised: Sign Exposé

We all love to have a laugh over grammar and spelling mistakes on signs — especially when the results are hilarious — as Jay Leno and other late night show hosts can attest. Previously on this blog, I poked fun at some error-riddled signs around Toronto

Finding errors on signs was “like shootin’ fish in a barrel,” I wrote. Spelling errors and inconsistencies in capitalization were common, as were errors in the names of small businesses. How do these errors occur, I’ve always wondered. I imagined a nefarious world of sign printers laughing callously at the text and graphics submitted by unsuspecting clients — text and graphics to be printed on otherwise perfectly charming and colourful awnings. I imagined lost revenue, shattered egos, and revenge fantasies brought to life in minutely executed detail — or at the very least, small claims court cases. Like Lynne Truss on the radio program Cutting a Dash, I went in search of answers.

First, I spoke with Ken at Van Winkle Sign & Display. The company’s home page states that they offer “Concept Consultation,” “Staff of True Signage Craftsmen,” and “Custom Qr-codes on your signage solution.” (Any red pens out yet?) Near the bottom of the page, centre is spelled center. Maybe I should have asked about their website manager…

Ken generously took the time to answer my questions. He said the company engages clients in a full design process. They proofread text and have never found the need to hire an editor, relying instead on the client to catch errors. Ken agreed that there are plenty of signs to be found with errors. He opined that Ontario’s diversity is probably a root cause of the errors: lots of people have English as their second language. He also said that it’s easy to buy a printing machine and hang out a sign maker shingle —  the ol’ story we all shake our heads at when it happens within our own professions.

Second, I spoke with Igor at Sign-A-Rama. What stands out on the company’s website is the inconsistency: Sign-A-Rama, Sign A Rama, Signarama. I can’t help but think that the quality of their website content is a direct reflection of the quality of the signs they print. But Igor said the client supplies the files, and then Sign-A-Rama provides proofs for the client to sign off on, putting the onus on the client for any errors. Igor said he would certainly offer suggestions if a client offered less than ideal material, but the client’s wishes are paramount. He said that often a client’s files contain poorly designed graphics, and he mentioned leading and kerning, leaving me to infer that design — not editorial — concerns tend to be front and centre.

Last, I spoke with Janet at Burry Sign Studio. Their website is easy on the eyes and easy to navigate, with a few subtle textual errors that would probably go unnoticed by most people: inconsistency in capitalization, lack of hyphens. When asked about being presented with clients’ error-riddled files, Janet said she asks herself, should I tell them or not? Keeping clients happy is job #1, and Janet implied she is wary of correcting clients – especially ones who should know better. She once had a client from OCAD who wanted a sign printed that included a web address. Janet noticed that the address was incorrect, and although she worried about upsetting the client, she knew the sign would be useless without the correct information. She told the client, who I imagine was nothing but grateful.

I knew Janet and I were kindred spirits when she brought up one of her sign pet peeves – one we have in common with Lynne Truss: the apostrophe s! Yes, I commiserated. They’re either put in where they shouldn’t be or omitted when they should be present!

There you have it. There isn’t a shady underworld of sign printers after all. Sign printers are simply performing a service for their clients, and it’s up to the clients to know what they want.

 If this research has taught me anything, it’s that there’s plenty of work out there for editors – work on websites, that is. Corporate websites need help.



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