Forecasting the Future

Sign industry predictions for the coming year.

If January is for resolutions, and February is for breaking them, March is when the year gets real for me. As the first quarter ends, I feel those first niggles of urgency: What are we going to accomplish this year? That gets me thinking about the future.

Here’s what I predict as we look to the end of the first quarter. I see an increasing reliance on online reviews as opposed to websites persuading customers, and a greater dependence on video as opposed to print, both for customer testimonials and sharing your past work. Future customers will visit your website to see outcomes as well as your process and will increasingly care about the person behind the business, as opposed to slick marketing.

I think we will see a resurging demand for uninterrupted time and one-to-one connection – a backlash against our overreliance on smartphones. And that will shift the way we see email, too. College admissions officers already know that the next generation shrugs off email communication as old fashioned. Email will take its place astride junk mail delivered by the USPS; a ubiquitous, but not preferred method of marketing to people. 

I already see manufacturers serving the sign industry making a move to build online advice forums and annual user events that meet specific needs, as opposed to blanket marketing practices. So, expect better customer service for existing customers. From some companies, I anticipate less investment in finding new customers in the sign industry, particularly among digital printer manufacturers, who have other lucrative markets opening up as bioprinting and 3D printing technologies advance. 

For signmakers, I think many of the traditional crafts will survive in the hands of a select few eccentric experts. Neon will never be what it was, and it won’t generate the revenue for as many sign companies as it used to. But a few people will still bend glass for neon, and these creative maker-entrepreneurs will be in demand, particularly after the next economic downturn further reduces the talent pool.

If there need be some light at the end of the tunnel, I think city planners will increasingly come to understand signage as a necessary design element, rather than a visual nuisance to be reined in or squelched wherever possible. 

I wonder about recruiting the next generation, the timing of that downturn I mentioned, and the impacts of EU mercury bans and China’s threatening import/export practices. But as more sign companies elevate design, connect with communities through outreach and philanthropy, and push planners and others to reconsider signage as necessary and attractive, I see many opportunities for sign companies of all sizes to thrive.

Signs of the Times May 2019

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