Two new retail businesses opened up just down the street. I passed them for a couple weeks with no clue as to what they offered. Then my curiosity got the better of me, so I walked over to see. One’s a hair salon and the other is a photographer.

Their signs are absolutely beautiful — and completely unreadable from more than ten feet away. That might be okay if their businesses were located on a quaint street in a tourist town, where visitors ambled back and forth at a slow pace. But they’re on a busy U.S. highway where the traffic often blows by at 40 mph.

Whose fault is it? I can’t fault the business owners, because they probably asked for a beautiful sign and that’s what they got. But whoever actually designed the signs did them a disservice (and the designs are similar enough that I’m sure it was the same person).

Before choosing colors and typefaces, the designer should have asked how the signs would be used.  If the owners’ goal is to call attention to the existence and location of the businesses, the designer should have made sure that the signs were legible from a passing car.

Unfortunately, thanks to graphic design software, there are so many people who are calling themselves designers, although they have no formal education in the field. Concepts like baselines, negative space, kerning, and leading are completely foreign to them, but they can manipulate software into something pretty. I’ll bet you more than a few bucks that the “designer” in this case fits that bill.