What do our signs say about us as a city? | Courtesy of AIGA Louisville

What does a city’s signage — from business names to billboards to murals — say about its culture? We’re about to find out, as AIGA Louisville, formerly the Louisville Graphic Design Association, hosts design and typography expert Nikki Villagomez on Thursday for a talk on “How Culture Affects Typography.”

Villagomez has given more than 25 similar presentations to local AIGA chapters around the country, and she tailors each lecture to the specific city she’s visiting. Prior to Thursday’s event, she will have seen and studied dozens of pictures of Louisville’s most famous signage and will have some assessments on what they say about us as a culture and Southern city.

Nikki Villagomez

The author, professor and blogger tells Insider she’s already been studying some of our signs, which were submitted by members of AIGA Louisville, and she sees some similarities between us and New York City and Baltimore.

“Louisville seems to be a neighborhood-style town,” she says. “Unlike, say, Orlando, which doesn’t have neighborhood divisions, Louisville struck me more as a neighborhood pride type of city, a lot like New York or Baltimore.”

Throughout her travels, the South Carolina native has come to appreciate the unique qualities of each city she studies. And two big factors — money and history — play a significant role in a city’s signage.

“A lot of it is determined by the economic factor of the city. Cities that have a lot more money put into them have a very different look compared to cities that don’t,” she says. “For example, San Antonio: It’s a beautiful, beautiful city, but it doesn’t have the type of money as, say, Vegas. Many of the signs I saw there were hand-lettered.”

Nikki Villagomez is author of “Culture + Typography”

She’s also noticed that historical cities like New Haven, Conn., and Richmond, Va., seem to embrace their heritage and celebrate old signs and advertisements, which in turn adds to their charm.

Villagomez is the author of “Culture + Typography: How Culture Affects Typography,” and she hosts a blog by the same name. She says she’s always been drawn to comparing and contrasting different fonts, colors, materials and other factors that make a good sign.

So what makes a sign a successful one?

“If it’s memorable,” she says. “If it’s easy to read. A big mistake some signs make is when there’s too much going on.”

An example of Mrs Eaves

Villagomez admits her favorite font is Mrs Eaves — which she even named her daughter after — while her least favorite is Curlz.

“It’s awful,” she says about the latter. “You’ll see it on the back of cars as monogrammed initials.”

And this is Curlz.

Villagomez will analyze Louisville’s signs on Thursday, April 27, at the Tim Faulkner Gallery from 6-9 p.m. The event is open to all, and tickets are $5 for students or $10 for general admission.

And on Friday, April 28, she’ll give a lecture to Sullivan College of Technology and Design students on “10 Things I’ve Learned by Working Hard & Being Ballsy,” from 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m.

Sara Havens is the Culture Editor at Insider Louisville. She's known around town as the Bar Belle and updates her blog (barbelleblog.com) daily. She's a former editor of LEO Weekly and has written for Playboy and The Alcohol Professor. Havens is the author of two books: "The Bar Belle" and "The Bar Belle Vol. 2."


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