USSC Report: Importance of a Good Foundation

I never really stopped to think about how many ways we use the word "foundation" in our everyday lives. In education, we talk about children getting a "firm foundation" in the basics; in construction, it's all about making sure the structure or walls have a "good foundation" or base; in philosophy and ethics, we need a "good foundation" for our thoughts; in cosmetics you put on "foundation makeup;" etc.

In the sign industry, we often talk about "foundation" in terms of construction—the footings to a sign need a "good foundation," the concrete we use must form a "solid foundation," and the "foundation" must be engineered properly for the sign to stand the test of time.

However, as sign makers, you need to know that there's a much more important meaning of the word.

The foundation that I am thinking about is one that will provide a base for the future of the sign industry, when it comes to dealing with municipalities, zoning officials, planners, and other individuals that influence and regulate the signs that we make.

The United States Sign Council (USSC) Foundation was established over a decade ago to be the research arm for the industry. Since its establishment, the Foundation has funded fifteen different studies. All of these studies were then used in the writing of the USSC Model Sign Code (as well as in other publications). The USSC Foundation also provides outreach to the Planners at their annual American Planning Association convention and conference.

We have studies on sign legibility and visibility, driver information overload, traffic safety, lighting, and much more. If you go to our Web site, there's a whole list of the publications that are available. All USSC members have received a copy of these studies and non-members may purchase them for a nominal fee.

But it's not enough just to have these studies—it's also vitally important that we get the information into the hands of those who regulate our industry.

At the USSC office, when we get a call from a member in distress or a town that needs help with a new code, we consistently use these studies to work through a solution.

Many are not aware that one of the primary reasons for the founding of the USSC back in the mid-90s was so that we could begin to gather a body of scientific research on signs that could be used by the industry when a town is re-writing a code or a sign company is seeking a variance. As fellow sign people (and not just association managers), we were aware of what was going on in the trenches and that it was vital that we begin to get information about signs that was not based on our own instincts but rather on scientific research.

There are two primary reasons for regulating signs—traffic safety and aesthetics. You cannot argue aesthetics; after all, beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder. What I may think is a good-looking sign may not be good-looking to the supervisor in your town.

But you can argue traffic safety. The motorist must be able to see the sign and react to it in adequate time—otherwise the safety of the citizenry is at stake.

And so the USSC and the USSC Foundation slowly built up a body of knowledge about signs and traffic safety. No other sign-related organization has invested so heavily and produced as much knowledge about on-premise signs in the landscape as the USSC Foundation.

USSCFoundation 2We have invested over $2 million funding these fifteen different studies. Two million dollars is a lot of money. And we are currently in the process of engaging in another study regarding LED/EMC signs and optimum lighting for on-premise applications. The cost of this new study is $160,000 (and that doesn't include the publication of the findings).

But we believe that it is necessary.

We believe that we need a solid foundation of research in this area. On-premise signs serve a vital communication and traffic safety function, and as more and more on-premise signs utilize LED/EMC technology, it's important to have the information available that will allow this technology to be approved by the towns when regulating on-premise signs.

So where does all this money come from? Well, most of it comes from our annual Sign World International tradeshow. Five percent of these gross proceeds are donated to the Foundation.

But we also need donations from other sources. And you can be assured that, when a donation is made to the USSC Foundation, every dime collected goes directly to research—there are no administration fees or expensive marketing campaigns (that is all done on a volunteer basis).

It's now late November—a time of year when so many other worthy charities are sending out requests for donations. However I'm asking you to consider an investment in the future of the sign industry. This is where you make your living, and we're fighting every day to make sure that you can keep doing that not only today but also in the future.

Every planner we are able to influence or town we are able to work with on writing a new code makes it better for you (and future generations) to do business. Every day, we slowly chip away at the biases about signs that exist out there and replace them with hard, scientific facts. Every study adds one more layer of information—one more weapon in our arsenal.

I ask that you consider making a donation to the USSC Foundation. Consider making an investment in your future ability to do business. I ask that you consider doing your part to help us fight the battles that still exist.

You can write a check for any amount to the United States Sign Council Foundation, 211 Radcliffe Street, Bristol, PA 19007. The Foundation is a 501 (c)(3) organization, and all contributions are fully deductible to the full extent of the law.

If you have any questions, call me at 215/785-1922 or email me at

Thank you for your generosity.

—Nancy Maren

Nancy Maren is executive director of the United States Sign Council.



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