Defined as the art of designing and using signs for commercial purposes, the term “commercial signage” consequently refers to all those activities, promotional or informational, that seek to communicate some specified message to the customers. It also refers to a collection of signs that may be put into use by traders, businessmen or retailers in order to attract customers or transmit messages to them.

Evidently, therefore, commercial signage seeks to serve a plethora of functions, ranging from conveyance of information, promotions, and advertisement, to endorsement and marketing. The earliest functions served by signs, however, were that of identification, navigation, and safety regulation.

The use of commercial signs, however, dates back to several centuries in the past. Studies have revealed, and historical relics have suggested that the use of signs for commercial purposes was an age-old practice. It was rampantly used in civilizations as old as that of the Romans and Chinese. Whitewashed walls painted with messages, printed copper plates replete with ornamentation, or even posters made from bamboo and terracotta have suggested that marketing of products was in full swing even in antiquity. In fact, legislation concerning Commercial Signage can be traced back to the Medieval times when in England, King Richard II made it compulsory for tavern owners and public houses to hang signboards outside their houses of business in order to facilitate inspection and quality control of the ale or services being provided.

Over the years that followed, the use of commercial signboards began to be conventionalized. The use of Coat of Arms and emblems of noble houses indicating royal endorsement began to rise, as did cases of fraudulence, where false claims concerning endorsements were made by businessmen. Consequently, more laws came into being, and with the passage of time, the use of signs became much more restricted, legally regulated, and patterned and organized.

It was only in the twentieth century that commercial signage actually began to hit the market. The discovery of neon lights, and their eventual introduction into this sphere revolutionized commercial marketing and advertising in a way it had never been affected before. As observed by  Starr T. and Hayman E. in Signs and Wonders: The Spectacular Marketing of America,  by 1913, “the skies were awash with a blaze of illuminated, animated signs.”

In order to delve deeper into the field of commercial signage or understand its purpose, it would be useful at this point to pause and take a look at the conventionalized patterns of signage that have developed over the years.