A visitor to Amman in Jordan will immediately notice the huge amount of advertising hoardings and signboards that adorn the buildings. They attract attention because of their size, location, design and the materials used. They reflect both the profession of the graphic designer and the state of the signage industry in Jordan.
Sign-making has a long history in Jordan, going back to the 1920’s when signs were in the hands of calligraphy experts who understood the relationship between the sign and the building. These pioneers were calligraphers who studied written Arabic, its rules, types, and Arabic typography. Some of these calligraphers specialized in Latin letters. They all integrated their knowledge of both the raw materials and Arabic calligraphy to produce signboards.
Sometimes, signs are constrained by the size of the location on which they are located, such as doors or gates, or influenced by the surface they are applied to such as stone, wood or metal. The calligrapher’s task was to produce the most convenient sign form, using elementary colours.
Different sign materials
Historically, signs utilised a great variety of raw materials including metal, leather, cloth, paper and fluorescent lighting. The material chosen was largely determined by the function intended for the signboard and its location.
The sign production process in Jordan has evolved rapidly to encompass new and developing areas of expertise, including designers, illustrators and architects, who began to have an impact in the late 1970s. It became a competitive industry, with huge numbers of people working in the production of signage.
The advertising industry also developed rapidly, affecting the materials and techniques used for signs. For example, calligraphers began to use air-brush techniques and stencil systems to put letters onto surfaces, producing high-standard signs and a professional result. Use of metal, especially aluminium and copper, as a three dimensional material flourished at the end of the seventies and beginning of the eighties. Previously that plastic was commonly used as a surface for signs.
Mass produced signs
Recent mass production techniques have resulted in a massive amount of signage being produced in Jordan today. In the production of these signs, the principles of design aesthetics are often ignored and signage often conflicts visually with the surrounding architectural heritage. The situation has been unregulated and has grown out of control.
In 2006, the municipality of Amman studied the situation with regard to commercial signboards with a view to improving the situation. In 2007, regulation was introduced that ordered the removal of signboards from the facades and upper floors of buildings.
My PhD project investigated the causes that created the visual pollution of the environment in Amman in 2006. The research looked at the effect of the regulation of signboards, introduced by the Greater Amman municipality in 2007, has had on the urban environment.
A lack of training
There is a lack of teaching of sign design in Amman that may have been a causal factor in the original decline in the quality of sign design. The new regulations may have a limited effect because of the lack of adequate teaching. This will limit the improvements to the overall quality of signage produced in Amman. Skilled graphic designers and the sign manufacturing industry plays an important role in creating attractive urban environments.
Amman municipality is trying hard to change the city signs culture and Amman is at the centre of a wider national project across Jordan that aims to improve signage systems and raise the status of public design. It is necessary to establish guidelines related to sign design and undertaking this will necessarily involve design institutions, who teach or practice sign design and will involve setting up systems that can be applied in real situations.
These new systemized guidelines will lead to commercial signage being arranged neatly and uniformly. The creation of variety, harmony and unity will be the key to solving the signage problem that exists in Amman.
Further research is being carried out to understand the shortcomings of the current commercial signage in Amman and the future role of graphic designers in creating signs. The extent to which existing training equips graphic designers for a career in commercial sign design is being reviewed and a proposal outlining the competencies that future designers need is being developed.