University sign makers cover it all

On-campus shop meets Longhorn customer needs with artistic flair

Hard at work: James Daniels helps other sign shop employees assemble signage for the stadium recycling bins.

Photo Credit: Suchada Sutasirisap

Laminated pictures of a packed Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium lay strewn across a desk covered with plastic scraps and X-Acto knives. Pictures of UT’s greatest sports moments lay in piles around the room, rolls of colored vinyl breaking up the burnt orange.

In the middle of this chaotic scene, James Daniels, who has been an employee at the University Sign Shop for 19 years, patiently seals the stadium pictures together around a plastic model of a trashcan. This model will ultimately be used to create new recycling bins for the football stadium

The University Sign Shop provides signs, banners and graphics to programs, faculty, staff and students at UT. They are involved in every stage of the process, from graphic design to construction and
installation.

“We are really the jack of all trades,” said Matthew T. Carpenter, the shop’s supervisor and Sign Shop employee for the last 15 years. Carpenter and the shop receive requests that range from temporary banners for events to designs for the signage on UT police cars, which has to be especially clear and effective.

“You have to look at [signs] as a whole. It is probably one of the most underestimated design forms out there,” Carpenter said. “You don’t look at a sign for more than a few seconds, but you deal with signs every day and don’t want to have to sift through information to find what you need.”

There is also a balance between clarity and aesthetic, according to Carpenter, who studied architecture in New York prior to joining the Sign Shop. At UT, he discovered design and the importance of foundational art skills such as drawing, painting and sketching.

“I want the sign to have the right relationship to the environment and be pleasing to the eye,” Carpenter said. “In order to achieve that, you must have a solid foundation in traditional hand techniques to understand the principles of design.”

Carpenter notes that it was only in the 1980s that signage transitioned from hand painting to printing the graphics from computer design onto plastic, paper or other materials. And even now, the computer is merely a tool similar to a paintbrush or pencil.

Orlando Ramirez, UT’s graphic sign technician, designs the signs with Carpenter and personally installs them.

“I take a client’s idea, make it more interesting and then see it through the whole process,” Ramirez said.
Ramirez particularly enjoys projects from the UT athletics department because they present a challenge, requiring different materials and going up in difficult locations.

“It is hard to get [the sports murals] to look sharp and very professional,” Ramirez said. “Plastic wants to do its own thing, and you just can’t rush through a job.”

Professionalism is one of the key components of the University Sign Shop, where every effort is made to understand what the customers’ needs are.

“We’re a small shop and we try really hard to meet and exceed customer expectations,” Carpenter said. “We don’t want people to be like, ‘Ugh not another in-house service.’ We want people to look at us and say, ‘Let’s give in-house another shot.’”

To do this, the University Sign Shop focuses on listening to whether they are constructing signs to motivate sports teams or helping student organizations communicate their ideals clearly.

"We want people to come back and say, ‘Wow,’” Carpenter said. “I want people to get a design they like and enjoy, while still clearly communicating their message.”