The Art Of Vertical Banner Sign Design

Text Orientations

Vertical banner signs are frequently seen on the sides of buildings and shops or fixed to lampposts. For multi-storey buildings, applying high level, banner signs can help cut through the visual noise and increase visibility of the brand, destination or promotional message.

Large arrow sign with a yellow body and red arrow head containing the word parking, pointing to the entrance to a car park

Vertical banner signs are frequently seen on the sides of buildings and shops or fixed to lampposts. For multi-storey buildings, applying high level, banner signs can help cut through the visual noise and increase visibility of the brand, destination or promotional message.

Text Orientations

When it comes to designing the content, laying out text in a vertical rather than horizontal orientation will make the most out of the space. With less line breaks is will also be easier to read. There are three potential orientation options as illustrated below:

  1. Horizontal – 90° clockwise (top to bottom)
  2. Horizontal – 90°counter-clockwise (reading bottom to top)
  3. Marquee style with stacked upright letters
Diagram showing three orientations for laying out text in a vertical banner sign. The arrangement reads top to bottom, the middle bottom to top and the right shows the letters stacked on top of each other in a marquee style

For languages based on the roman alphabet we’re used to reading text horizontally from left to right.  Stacking letters one on top of the other, in a marquee style, is unfamiliar and research has proven it to be a slower read. As such should be used with caution and then only with a short amount of text.

What Horizontal Option is Best?

However, whether vertically oriented text should read from bottom to top or vice versa is one of those hoary subjects that is debated among wayfinding folk. To date I’m yet to come across any empirical research that provides definitive guidance either way for signs.

The argument made by the ‘top to bottom’ camp is that this reflects how text is oriented on book spines and ispo facto should be used on signs.

The counter observation from the ‘bottom to top’ contingent about the book spine rationale, is that:

  1. The text is arranged top to bottom so that when the book is laid flat the text on the spine reads left to right horizontally and
  2. This orientation is only found in the UK and US – in the rest of Europe and the world it tends to be the other way around.

They will reason that as a person glances upwards to view the sign, their eyes will lock on the first letter at the bottom and be drawn upwards to take in the rest of the content. So, it makes sense for the message to read from top to bottom.

Selection of books on a shelf some are stacked vertically and other are lying flat on the shelf
Diagram featuring two sets of text arranged vertically - one reading top to bottom the other bottom to top. An eye graphic is placed at the bottom of each with a dotted line and arrow shows the viewing trajectory

Our Thoughts

Personally, I question the validity of translating design rules applied to items you can hold in your hand and view at eyelevel; to objects that can be several metres long and placed a few more above head height. If you take a people centred design perspective, orienting the text so that the point closest to the eye level of the reader is the start point seems to make more sense. So, for high level signs – that means arranging the text to read from the bottom to top. For more human scale totem signs, where eye level is likely to coincide with the top of the sign – top to bottom.

Whatever school of thought you subscribe to, we should at least strive for consistency. There are plenty of examples where there is a mix of both. While it might be difficult mandate along High Streets under mixed ownership, I’d have through it would be relatively easy to legislate for within managed buildings or estate