Being a graphic designer is both a profession and an obsession, a blessing and a curse. I’ve been taught to see things most people overlook or happily ignore, not unlike that kid in the Sixth Sense, minus Bruce Willis and the whole dead people thing.
The first is the disturbing realization that most graphic designers are an obnoxious bunch of arrogant hipsters, which means every day for me is kind of an exercise in self-loathing. The second is bad design, and specifically bad type.
I hate bad type. No, hate isn’t strong enough. Detest, abhor, abominoathe (which is a word I just made up combining ‘abominate’ and ‘loathe’). See that? I hate bad type so much I’m rewriting Webster’s.
Nothing makes me wince more than retail signage executed in all caps script; it’s a crime against typography. Just don’t do it. Please. Another is a handwritten sign where the “designer” didn’t anticipate the length of the message and was subsequently forced to make every successive character smaller and smaller until the last words in that “bathrooms are for customers only” sign are squished and a half-inch high.
There’s a Chinese restaurant I purposely avoid ordering from because they have a menu board in the window that features some of the most gruesome and glaringly bad handwritten type I have ever seen. It’s as if the proprietors handed a marker to the cook and forced him to write down the daily specials while simultaneously keeping an eye on the woks.
But of all the offensive examples of bad type (and bad design for that matter) none aggravates me more than the “Welcome to Downers Grove” sign along Highland Avenue.
Everything about it is awful. The random shape that vaguely suggests Texas as drawn by a toddler. The bad script typography that suggests a dollar store holiday card your Aunt Tootie resends every year. The terrible two-tone beige on brown that reminds you of cushioned patio furniture on the set of some '70s-era porno filmed in a tennis club. It gets worse, however. The all-caps dirty white brick welcome signage opposite 31st street is the signage equivalent of government cheese: generic and tasteless.
With all the development going up around the downtown area and our glorious new Belmont Avenue underpass finally opening up for use, how did we overlook our pathetic welcome signage? Wasn’t there a dollar or three to spare after the hole was dug and the concrete poured to hire a competent graphic designer to improve the very signs that welcome visitors to our humble village? How can we have overlooked it?
Why the exaggerated hysteria over village welcome signs? There are bigger issues, right? You’re not a schizophrenic graphic designer who apparently has too much time on his hands, so why should you care?
It’s simple: first impressions mean everything. With all of the encouraging changes that have taken place in our village over the last decade, shouldn't our signage follow suit? What’s wrong with a little updating, something reflective of where we are going versus where we’ve been?
Have you seen Lisle’s village signage? Sculpted white concrete with a Maple tree silhouette in sunk-relief (a nod to Morton Arboretum) and a handsome condensed serif font. Why can’t we do something like that? We don’t have to go all Schaumburg and create signs that rival Mount Rushmore but do our signs have to feel like apartment complex signage on the east end of Davenport? Aren’t we way cooler than that?
How about a heroic image of Pierce Downer himself, sleeves rolled up to reveal powerful biceps honed from farming the Grove, a well-worn sickle resting along his massive shoulders. Or maybe a tag line that references our place in the lore of the Underground Railroad? How about the carved in relief as a symbol of our history?
Thus, I’m officially kicking off the "Our Signs Suck" campaign to replace our village signage along both Highland and Ogden Avenues. In the coming weeks I will set up a PayPal account where I’ll be asking anyone interested to click and donate a dollar to the cause. As such, I am pledging half of my monthly pay as an intrepid Patch journalist will go directly to the fund, which will leave me enough every month to go to the movies—by myself. It’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make. Won’t you do the same?
Have an idea for our village signage? Send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I promise that I will share it with the village hierarchy, whom I’m absolutely certain will be contacting me for this cause any day now.