Over the past 30 years, we have seen many professions in the graphic arts replaced by technology. Sign painting is one. Sign painting was a trade that existed in every community to adorn storefronts, banners, billboards, street signs, and buildings. The really good signs were one-of-a-kind works of art, produced by a steady hand, discerning eye, and aesthetic sensibility. Hand-painted signs revealed the pride and skill of the craftsmen. Their execution took human judgment and an active collaboration of eye, mind and hand. On a subliminal level, viewers could feel the effort of the maker. Now signs are mostly computer-designed, die-cut vinyl lettering. Undoubtedly, this is faster, cheaper and more uniform in quality, but like so much of our urban landscape, it lacks the warmth, soul and touch of human hands. “Sign Painters” is a documentary film (and also a book) by Faythe Levine and Sam Macon that celebrates the vanishing art of sign painting. The film is currently being shown in select locations in the U.S. and other parts of the globe. If it comes to your area, do see it.
IBM’s “Smarter Planet” communication platform, developed with its long-time agency, Ogilvy & Mather, added a low-tech, but highly appreciated approach to its outdoor advertising campaign. IBM looked beyond its digital technology business and considered what would enhance the quality of life in a community. It didn’t change its marketing message, but it did alter its outdoor advertising strategy. Incorporating a simple curve in the physical shape of its billboards transformed them into street benches, rain shelters and ramps — which all goes to prove that small changes can provide smart solutions for cities.