Grocery store aisle signs have certainly changed over the years. The graphic design and printing capabilities that vendors and retailers now have at their fingertips have greatly increased since supermarkets began dominating the American grocery market decades ago. With each decade came a new era of grocery store layout and design, and new trends that improve upon the simple concept of a sign. Here we take a look back at some of the aisle sign design trends of the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s, and where this retail evolution has brought us to today.
1950s: Bold and Simple
We often hear that the 1950s were a simpler time, and this seems to at least ring true when it comes to grocery store signage. At the time, though, these signs were part of a retail revolution. The signs that marked the aisles in supermarkets during the 1950s showed a major difference in branding and marketing compared to previous eras where mom-and-pop shops dominated the grocery industry. These signs were bold, simple, typically limited to two colors and often hand-painted; but they were used to organize large stores into smaller sections and utilized a cohesive design, just like today.
1960s: Fresh and Colorful
Grocery stores became more colorful in the 1960s, as color televisions appeared on the scene in the early part of the decade and psychedelic, flower power designs came to dominate fashion and design trends in the latter part of the decade. This was echoed in many of the aisle signs in grocery stores of the time.
1970s: Experimenting with Designs
Aisle signs and other retail accessories became more sophisticated in the 1970s, combining different materials and integrating graphic designs in the forms of logos, cartoon characters, etc. Though retail designers were still limited in printing capabilities, they were definitely experimenting more with the designs of retail signs.
1980s: New Printing Capabilities
New printing capabilities began to be developed in the 1980s, just as other new technologies such as personal computers, gaming consoles, and portable cassette players came into the retail market. With such rapid advances in electronic products for the consumer market, retailers could no longer get away with low-tech designs.
1990s: Where Current Designs Were Born
We can still see the influences of the design trends of the 1990s in current retail signage. It’s typical to see a large aisle number at the top in the center, and two columns of interchangeable rows or hanging mini-signs indicating the various categories found on that aisle (such as frozen vegetables, paper goods, cleaning products, baked items, etc.). Additional design elements, such as the store logo or geometric shapes in branded colors, also became common during this final decade of the 20th century.
Though new technologies have been introduced, such as LED signs, the basic concepts remain the same. From wood and plastic to thick, durable cardboard, retailers have many options. Grocery store aisle signs still serve the same purposes, though, that they did long ago.