Take Me Out to the Ball Game
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Take Me Out to the Ball Game

Cincinnati’s Great American Ballpark offers proof positive that effective sign design can inform, entertain, commemorate ­ and stand out in a crowd.

By Jennifer LeClaire

Signs speak volumes. But signs in hustling bustling environments often speak too much, too loud, or perhaps even too subtlety to communicate the message.

Clarke Systems Architectural Signage Systems Wayfinding ADA

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  • Let’s face it. Poorly designed signs breed a sense of chaos that undermines the character of the surrounding architecture. The designer’s goal, then, is to inspire appealing signs that are compatible with the surrounding environment. Indeed, savvy sign designers whose work can effectively communicate in a cluttered setting are finding a world of opportunity in facilities far and wide.

    “Design sensitivity means creating the most pleasant environment possible. The idea is to create an environment where people don’t have to think twice about what they can do and where they can go,” says Dale Savit, principal of Savit & Associates, Inc., a Boston-based sign design firm. “Good sign design makes a place more interesting.”

    Take me out to the ball game
    Savit outlined several of the goals for the signage at the Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. Few environments are more active and alive than a sports complex.

    Signs that communicate to many thousands of harried fans making their way through concession areas, retail kiosks, restrooms, and seating beg for design sensitivity. After all, who wants to get lost on the way back from taking little Johnny to the restroom at the bottom of the ninth inning when the Reds are on the verge of winning the ballgame?

    Great American Ball Park illustrates the unique role signage plays in directing, entertaining and commemorating amid sensual clutter. Cincinnati-based FRCH Design Worldwide was tasked with designing and installing the signage at the $280 million baseball park.

    “We used modern printing techniques to help accomplish our goals,” says Jeff Waggoner, director of environmental graphic design for FRCH. “A lot of the images on the concession signs were taken from the Reds’ archives, colorized in Photoshop, printed on vinyl, and then applied to the face of the sign. Then we added neon accents to give it a special feel.”

    Blending signage with architecture
    The ballpark’s design showcases a brick and stone exterior and a steel structure, synonymous with the tradition and history of Cincinnati. The stadium incorporates modern conveniences with a salute to the Reds’ heritage as the nation’s first professional baseball team.

    The design includes a rose garden and commemorative plaque to mark the exact spot where Pete Rose’s 4,192st hit landed. Several other architectural features pay homage to Reds teams of days gone by. Waggoner says Reds fans understand the history of the team, so sign designers had to play that back in creative ways throughout the park to give them that nostalgic feel.

    “The goal with the signs was to create an atmosphere that makes a family visit to the ballpark memorable,” Waggoner says. “But we had to do that within the context of the architecture. The architecture, which is sort of 1930s Art Deco with a modern flare, helped define our typography.”

    Clarke Systems Architectural Signage Systems Wayfinding ADA

    Savit says typography is critical in any type of signage because it helps set the mood. Typography at a water park, for example, would be different than typography at a baseball park. Savit says the signs should blend in with the architecture, not stand out like a sore thumb.

    “Architects hate signs because they think it messes up the look of their design,” Savit says. “But design sensitive signage does not intrude on the architecture; it works together with it and becomes an integral part of the whole.”

    Cooperation of color and contrast
    Savit says the importance of color and contrast cannot be underestimated. It may sound fundamental, but the strengths of design sensitivity are in the basics. Color and contrast are primary factors in visibility.

    “Huge signs can be overbearing ­ and overlooked ­ while small signs can be picked out in a crowd even when you are distracted by noise or traffic,” Savit says. “Sometimes it’s not a matter of dressing the sign up to look pretty. It’s about making the sign sight-specific to the environment. That’s often a matter of selecting the right color and contrast and typography.”

    At Great American Ballpark, red, of course, was a dominant color. But sign designers did more than splash red anywhere and everywhere. They used red typography with drop shadows that accentuated the sports feel of the 1930s Reds uniforms. That required more than creativity ­ it required research to determine the exact look of the old-fashioned uniforms.

    Newfangled neon
    That’s just one example of how state-of-the-art technology meets history at Great American. Another is the use of neon. FRCH used newfangled neon to help the signage stand out from the pack. Neon was commonly used in the 1930s Art Deco era and is reintroduced to help illuminate key parts of the facility.

    In addition to the concession areas, historical quotes ­ like former Reds pitcher and longtime Reds radio broadcaster Joe Nuxhall’s trademark call, “Rounding third and heading for home!” ­ are transformed into signage that extends atop the northern portion of the ballpark.

    The Cincinnati Reds sign atop the administration building adjacent to the park boasts individual neon letters that are six feet tall and more than two feet wide. Each letter weighs 250 pounds and the signage can be seen across downtown Cincinnati.

    “We used exposed neon to get as much ‘pop’ as possible,” Waggoner says. “It hearkens back to a time when exposed neon and double-stroke neon was popular and makes the signs memorable. Neon requires more detailing to get the sign look you are after. The pattern has to be a little more precise.”

    Directional design for the future
    FHRC also designed this historic-modern ballpark signage with wayfinding in mind so fans could navigate their way through the park. Waggoner says fabrication techniques were all aluminum construction so the information could be changed if the wayfinding scheme changed.

    “The overhead directional signs can feature an image of a ball player or an advertisement,” Waggoner says. “We maintained a standard height for the signs and put them in similar locations over pathways so that people could always look for the directional signs in the same place. It’s always red signs with white letters and a black drop shadow with the same typography. That consistency is important to good directional sign design.”

    At Great American Ballpark, the designers blended color, contrast, typography, materials and common sense to not only entertain baseball fans, but also to build trust in the system. That required effective sign design that Waggoner hopes will be added to the experience of going to the ballgame for many years to come.

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