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The Science Survey

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The Science Survey

We've got the news down to a science!

The Science Survey

The Sign Artists of Trader Joe’s: Elevating the Everyday Through Art

A look into the artists behind the Trader Joe’s signs.
While many large corporations often have uniform signage across the board, Trader Joe’s is unique in the fact that they design their own signs. (Photo Credit: Giselle Venema; used by permission)
While many large corporations often have uniform signage across the board, ‘Trader Joe’s’ is unique in the fact that they design their own signs. (Photo Credit: Giselle Venema; used by permission)

When you enter Trader Joe’s, the first thing you notice is the bright, colorful, chalk-drawn murals. As you walk through the aisles, your eyes are immediately drawn to the creative designs on signs above each aisle. Each sign employs different lettering. Some are full of swoops and loops, written seemingly in cursive. Others have thick, blocky monochromatic lettering. More still have simple writing with bright, colorful drawings. “They can’t possibly all be hand designed, can they?” you may think. But yes. Yes, they are. 

One sign artist whom I had the pleasure of interviewing was Savannah Brynne, a Lead Sign Artist at a Trader Joe’s in California, where she has been working for almost seven years. She told me about the “sign team” that she manages. 

Many sign teams are small, made up of only 3-5 people out of the over 100 employees at most Trader Joe’s. These few individuals design and compose eye-catching signage that is both beautiful and understandable. Brynne told me, “I think display and signage art can be super fun but also has to be straightforward. Its purpose is to catch the eye and make a fun and informative impression to hopefully get a customer to try a product.” 

Many sign artists gain inspiration from the bright colors and eye-catching font of the package design, which they then implement into the sign designs. “Although a few of us who make signs tend to use a similar style, there is no set style,” Savannah Brynne said. (Photo Credit: Giselle Venema; used by permission)

While the goal of these signs is ultimately to sell more goods, that does not immediately diminish the enjoyable nature of design. Trader Joe’s itself is a chain with many branches, but each store has entirely unique signs that are filled with individuality. Each sign artist has the opportunity to design their own signs with little restrictions to encourage artistic freedom. Brynne even tells me, “I still use Pinterest as a great resource for finding new and interesting font styles.”

According to Giselle Venema, a sign artist and crew member at a Charlotte, North Carolina branch of Trader Joe’s, she similarly “ha[s] a lot of freedom.” Giving greater insight into the process, she continues, “Usually someone else is requesting the sign and they might have some suggestions or specific ideas, but usually I can do what I want,” as long as the sign is effectively informative and drives sales.

Venema speaks of her own artistic freedom stating, “Some stores have a specific font they use, but not at my store….We definitely choose colors and themes based on the season or any major holidays.” Brynne similarly emphasized holiday and seasonal divides. Although seasonal layouts are not enforced by the management, many sign artists choose to design their boards with a holiday or seasonal theme to match the time of year.

Savannah Brynne designed a movie-themed display to advertise the Trader Joe’s ‘Movie Night Popcorn.’ She made a movie clapboard and a three-dimensional movie popcorn bucket from just cardboard and paper. (Photo by Savannah Brynne; used by permission)

Sign artists are given a multitude of products to advertise, so many choose to stick to familiar themes, such as promoting the ‘Movie Night Popcorn’ at Trader Joe’s  with a sign depicting a bucket of popcorn and a clapper board to allude to traditional images of movies.

Other than the obvious associations, many signs are inspired by the package design or common themes. Venema speaks of her inspiration, stating, “I pull a lot of colors and lettering styles directly from the product packaging. A lot of the package design is so well done, it makes it really easy. Otherwise, I follow a lot of amazing sign artists on Instagram and am very inspired by them.”

These sign artists work daily to create new signs as displays are changed anywhere from every few days to every few weeks, so there is always more to design. Venema told me, “The large displays usually get changed out every few weeks, but every single sign in the store is handmade. So every day, we are making many smaller signs for the items on the shelf or smaller displays.”

Brynne elaborated on the process and requirements of upkeep on the quality of the signage, noting, “On average, our store carries around 3,000 individual products on our shelves. Each of these needs signage, all of which are handwritten by us. We have to maintain these signs every day, as there are always new items that come in or price adjustments that we are in charge of completing. The store is very dynamic as well, so if we run out of a product for the day, or maybe there’s a harvest delay, a product can be out of stock for days or even months. So while that item is gone, it is stored by us in organizing bins separated by each section. And when it comes back into stock, we have to find and return the sign. We also have large bins for different-sized signs if that item is on a display, as well as separate bins for seasonal items. And this is just the regular signs that you see on the shelves. That’s not even mentioning all the special projects, decorations, and display boards that we also maintain.”

Although there are many moving parts, Venema and Brynne expressed to me their immense passion and love for their jobs. It gives them the space to pursue their artistic passions and be a part of something they truly believe in. Brynne appreciates her position and the joy it brings others. She told me, “I absolutely love having the opportunity to make art for my store, and it’s so nice to see the customers enjoy the signage and art.” Venema similarly loves her job and wants to pursue it for the rest of her life. She appreciates the creativity that it allows her. She didn’t see a future for herself in the art world, but she now said, “I wish I had started working for Trader Joe’s when I originally wanted to back in college. I hope to work as a sign artist for the rest of my career.”

When I asked Giselle Venema what her favorite sign that she has made is, she told me, “Probably a 10 foot long sign that I just finished to hang above our ‘New Item’ shelf. It is the largest sign that I have ever made, done in a comic book style. It hasn’t even been installed yet, but I think it’s really going to pop.” (Photo Credit: Giselle Venema; used by permission)

Brynne particularly appreciates Trader Joe’s originality, which is becoming increasingly scarce.  She told me, “There used to be more places that incorporated handmade, creative art and signage. However, many companies have done away with this. It’s cheaper and less work to have a corporate-generated sign that they send to all their locations, but this eliminates the small personal touch that Trader Joe’s still values, and I’m glad to be a part of that.”

Both sign artists expressed immense gratitude for their job, with Venema telling me, “I truly love my job and look forward to going to work every day. It’s fun and rewarding and Trader Joe’s treats their employees very well. I feel very lucky!”

This position allows Brynne and Venema to pursue their art while in a job that they love. Brynne tells me of her background, painting for over 15 years, pursuing her passion in college. “I have always been into art since I was little, and it’s still a huge part of my life today, as I am soon to be graduating with my BFA in Animation. Along with animation, I enjoy creating stop motion pieces, oil paint portraits, and wool felt art, and I have recently been trying my hand at murals!” Venema has a similar love for art. “I had been painting and drawing since I was 8 years old, and I studied art in college.”  

However, Venema knew the risks associated with pursuing art: the inherent instability and difficulty finding employment. She even told me, “I never really thought I would use my art skills professionally.” This was another reason why she was overjoyed to find this position.

Brynne was also pleasantly surprised to find such a stable career in the art world. She said, “I did not intend on being a sign artist; I honestly wanted a cool job to work at while I was in college. Yet I’m so glad I can practice my craft at work as another art outlet.”

Their love of sign art comes directly from their ardor for creating art and the good working conditions of Trader Joe’s stores. Brynne told me, “Trader Joe’s is a very appealing place to work. The workers are pleasant and fun, and the atmosphere is very laid back.” She appreciates her colleagues, calling them “amazing coworkers. We’re all so fun, unique and nice.”

Sign art, while underappreciated, is an incredible art form created by people who care deeply about their positions and the art they create. The next time that you walk into a Trader Joe’s, take a look around at the designs these artists create. And when you return again, notice how all of the art is different.

“I think display and signage art can be super fun but also has to be straightforward. Its purpose is to catch the eye and make a fun and informative impression to hopefully get a customer to try a product,” said Savannah Brynne, a Lead Sign Artist at a Trader Joe’s in California.

About the Contributor
Yardena Franklin, Staff Reporter
Yardena Franklin is a Graphic Designer and Copy Chief for ‘The Observatory’ yearbook, as well as a Staff Reporter for ‘The Science Survey’ newspaper. She loves journalistic writing as a method to inform people about important subjects, and to share ideas for which she is passionate, all in a constructive, engaging way. She appreciates the art of taking photographs because they force her to think in a different manner, framing the picture in such a way that it tells a story and captures the exact moment in time. It is a precise art that requires much forethought to plan how the photograph will turn out. In doing so, it requires much perspective shifting and flexibility, the challenge of which she enjoys. Yardena loves acting, singing, and hanging out with friends. She is not sure what she wants to do after college, but she plans on pursuing writing in some form, either through journalism or as a novelist, in the future.