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Courtesy John Clark
A welcome-to-Utah sign greets California tourists in 1948.

Utah soon will be giving people a new "hi" sign.

A total of 29 welcome signs will be placed over the next few weeks at highway entrances to the state, with each of the seven designs promoting a geographically specific tourism attraction that can be found nearby.

The splashy new signs — sporting work by local artist David Meikle — will have larger "Utah" lettering and the "Life Elevated" state tourism brand. The billboards will replace the all-the-same existing signs that note the state's hosting of the 2002 Olympics. Those have been in place for 10 years.

The change is "part of the overall curb-appeal to the state," said Tracie Cayford, deputy director of the Utah Office of Tourism. "It was time to update the signage and put a new foot forward for Utah."

The new signs, larger than their predecessors, feature local attractions. Seven feature skiing; five depict Zion National Park; four each show a dinosaur image, Lake Powell and Delicate Arch; three sport Salt Lake City and its nearby mountains; and two show the Golden Spike trains.

"We're the only state that we're aware of that has done this," said Chad Davis, in charge of special projects at the tourism office and manager for the signs project for that agency.

"When you have a state like Utah that's so diverse, that's been a huge challenge with branding," he said. "We have northern Utah with the mountains and skiing and southern Utah with red rock and the desert. How do you come up with one cohesive branding strategy that encompasses everything? Well, with this, we wanted something that represents different areas of the state."

The figurative road to the new signs started more than two years ago as a priority for Leigh von der Esch, the tourism office's managing director. Funding was the hold-up, but the tourism office and Utah Department of Transportation have contributed to get the $300,000 needed to complete the project.

Davis and designers at Struck, a creative agency that has worked with the tourism office on various promotional materials, took the Meikle artwork and weighed lettering and messaging options for the new signs.

"A lot of the reason you don't notice the ones there now is because the text is so awful," Davis said. "The font that says, 'Welcome to Utah' is faded and just doesn't stand out at all. When people pass these, it probably registers that they see something, but they have no idea it is a 'Welcome to Utah' sign. We've been hearing that for the last two years. People will write us, saying, 'Why doesn't Utah have any welcome signs?"'

The new, large signs will be 10-by-20 feet, up from the current signs' 8-by-16 feet. A smaller version will be 6-by-12, replacing 5-by-10 signs.

Cayford described the signs as "retro-looking and fun and very tourism-oriented." Davis described the artwork as "dead-on."

"It kind of evokes a nostalgic era of motor travel in the U.S., but it's also hip and new, based on the placement and the 'Utah: Life Elevated' brand," he said.

On the new signs the "Utah" text is large compared to the current billboards. "We didn't want to muddle the message by trying to put too many words there," Cayford said. "We opted to go with a soft-sell, because we didn't want to muddle the message, which is 'You're coming into Utah, we're proud of our state, and we want show you some of the beautiful scenery and things that you can see here."'

Cayford noted that the state's new tourism branding has been seen mostly by people outside Utah, but the new signs will help introduce it in-state. About 80 percent of the state's visitors arrive by car, and in 2005, that meant 13.65 million nonresidents entered Utah by highway.

"In the scheme of state government, this is a little project that's a big project," Davis said of the sign enterprise. "It will be seen by millions and millions of people, so our messaging is hugely important."


E-mail: bwallace@desnews.com