The sign industry is accustomed to challenges. During World War II, when materials and manpower were diverted to supporting the national effort, sign shops managed with whatever scant resources were available, or adapted their production to aiding war preparedness. During the 1970's, amid a profound energy crisis, the sign industry was subject to undue scrutiny and threatened with potentially crippling regulations. Industry leaders, such as then president of Cincinnati Sign Supply, John Lamb, enlightened a Congressional panel about the essential role signs play in fostering economic growth for businesses of every size and stripe. The industry has been subjected to countless arbitrary regulations, from the dwell time of an electronic message board’s imagery to fighting for content-neutrality protection, which culminated in a 2015 Supreme Court victory for the industry in Reed v. Town of Gilbert.
All past challenges seem pale in comparison to COVID-19. Of course, the sign industry is hardly alone in combating profound, fundamental challenges. Sole proprietorships and corporate multinationals alike are compelled to adapt their products and processes to ensure the safety of workers, vendors, and customers. Maintaining operations presumes that a business is deemed essential. Some might argue that sign businesses are not essential. This is not true. Healthcare entities are more important than ever for the testing and treatment of COVID-19’s victims, while still providing care for countless other patients. Whether it’s the construction of a vital new medical facility, or the re-configuring of an existing one, signs play a vital role in informing, directing, and connecting the public to needed services. Grocery stores, restaurants offering carry out, and other businesses often require signage to help customers navigate a transaction safely within social distancing parameters.
A sign shop’s potential contributions transcend sign design and fabrication. A shop’s infrastructure intersects with many different manufacturing disciplines and materials that can be cross-purposed to produce materials such as masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) that support safe public interactions. Sign-company executives are reconsidering the repertoire of visual-communication products that they offer, as people’s behavior in public space may permanently change.
If there’s any positive takeaway to be gleaned from the COVID-19 crisis, it’s that we seem to be collectively rediscovering the importance of interconnectedness and interdependence. This pandemic is spurring us toward greater empathy and making decisions that emphasize collaboration.
With this in mind, I hope that you enjoy these case studies, which reflect diverse solutions and methods shops have used to manage, and perhaps even thrive, amidst the COVID-19 crisis. Each story reflects a common motivation: to more effectively serve our respective communities in a time of need.
If you would like to tell your own stories, please reach out to Emmalee Zaatar at firstname.lastname@example.org.