4 Apr

Designing a Signature

A hot December day in Honolulu, Hawaii I stepped into a small grocery store to find some water. It was the day before the Honolulu Marathon and I was on my to pick up my race packet and timing chip.

While standing in the checkout line I watched the Japanese lady in front of me sign her credit card receipt with small, perfectly formed strokes. Her precision was followed by my childlike scribbles on the next receipt. I felt foolish in comparison.

As designers we work on logos and other branded material quite regularly, so why note focus on your signature?

I’ve always had an ugly signature. First when I was a kid it was just my name written in rather blocky letters. It wasn’t fluid or quick, it was just my name. I always hated cursive so when forced to learn it my signature improved, but only a little. My pen moved between letters fluidly, but the final result was still ugly and crude. An awkward combination of block and cursive letters.

Over time my signature became more random until a friend commented that it was just scribbles. From then on I took it as a challenge to see how crazy I could make it and still get it accepted. This turned out to be incredibly boring when after two or three purchases I discovered that no one cares if your signature even resembles letters. They’ll accept anything.

With my fun ruined I decided to try the exact opposite; to make a signature I was actually proud to show off. I started by looking up cursive and calligraphy samples, found some I liked, and then came hours of practice. First I focused on the first letters of each name N and B. My theory being that if those letters looked good it didn’t matter as much what followed.

After filling a few pages with practice letters and signatures I found a style I liked. But as hard as I tried I couldn’t get the “th” in “Nathan” to look how I wanted. Signatures are supposed to be quick and effortless, and my new style was too difficult and slow even after quite a bit of practice.

Both problems were solved by signing only “N. Barry”. After all the domain name for this blog used to be nbarry.com.

“Perfection is achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away”
– Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Now my signature was short and looked fine, but it still wasn’t distinct. With the Antoine de Saint-Exupery quote in mind I decided to shorten it even further to just N.

Quick, distinctive, and simple. It works. I practiced it a few hundred more times before being satisfied and moving on.

It turns out the more difficult part is to actually use the signature on a daily basis. When presented with receipts and documents I always sign my old signature out of habit. It has taken a conscious effort to remember my new signature. Sometimes on financial documents, even when I remember, I still sign my old signature, because I am worried the new one won’t be accepted. Though so far it has always been accepted.

That’s my story. Hopefully you will start to apply design to some of the smaller areas of your life as well.

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5 Responses to “Designing a Signature”

  1. Melia Loftus says:

    Have you read Script and Scribble: The Rise and Fall of Handwriting? I recently tried to change my signature to something I liked more, but I quickly gave up because it was taking too much time. And I wasn’t really sure if you could just change it because of the history already associated with my signature. I feel a little better knowing I’m not the only one who has thought about it.


    • No, I haven’t read it. Looks interesting.

      I also thought having your signature match over time was important, but I decided that if the new signature was ever rejected I could always sign the old one instead. Over time I will switch all documents over to the new signature. In general though I don’t think people pay much attention to accuracy of signatures.


  2. I changed my signature a few years back. Hmm well maybe ten years ago. The only time I was questioned about it was when I applied for a new passport. They just asked me to put both signatures next to each other on a piece of paper.


  3. please give a great signature of my name <3


  4. For me, I have two signature, one in short form while another in complete form. I will differentiate between documents, very important, e.g insurance policy and normal documents , e.g. sick leave. This is to reduce time wasting trying to perfect my signature for all documents.


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