From Point A to Point B

As companies grow and become more complex the need for way-finding signage increases. A hospital that may have been encompassed in one or two buildings may now occupy a complex of ten buildings; retail sites such as malls have become much larger, offering many levels of stores, boutiques and restaurants; corporate offices that may have at one time occupied two floors now occupy ten floors. Way-finding signage is more vital than ever to help us get where we need to go. Our experts weigh in on way-finding signage.

The Basics

Why does a company need to employ way-finding signage? It’s simply a tool to guide consumers to their destination through a series of directories, door signs, and many types of interior and exterior guides.

According to Anthony Harris, vice president of sales for North America at Gravograph, one of the most common types of way-finding signage is found at various entrances to a building.

“Sometimes there are directories at the main entrance but at the secondary entrance or driveway entrances the signage isn’t as substantial there,” says Harris. “At minimum the signage needs to direct you to the main lobby.”

“As staff and visitors approach the building they require a comprehensive set of directions to allow them to reach their destination," says Danny Schneider, vice president of sales & business development at Vista System. "As they approach the facility they will expect to see two signs: First a tall tower sign directing towards the facility/parking area and then as they drive up an attractive sign proudly displaying the name and logo of the facility. Once they park their car, they will head towards the main entrance and several directional signs will be required. If the parking area is underground, signage will be required throughout the parking garage directing to the elevators and from there to the lobby. Once you reach the lobby directional signs are needed to direct the flow of traffic to the different sections of the facility. Similarly, additional directories and directing signs will be required throughout each section to allow the staff or visitor to reach their desired: room, office, lab, etc.

Schneider continues: “The second segment of signs required is also directional, but these signs direct the workflow as opposed to traffic. These signs are used to mark the functions of the different rooms throughout the building: meeting rooms, reception areas, break rooms, office supplies storage units, do’s and don'ts instruction signs, operating instructions for machines, etc. In many facilities these signs are also used to display standard procedures, evacuation plans, employee of the month and many additional operative functions. It is important to note that both segments require a variety of signs: Tower signs, wall mounted signs, Projecting flag style signs, hanging signs, door signs and the list goes on and on based on the end users budget, imagination and need.”

Special Planning

According to Julien Aiglon, division manager of SignPro Systems, it is vital to use a way-finding signage consultant when creating efficient signage systems. “The most successful projects we’ve participated in all seem to involve a way-finding consultant at some point in the process. Making sure to include them in the discussion early on is probably a good starting tip as they are the experts who will make recommendations from an overall way-finding standpoint. Their recommendations go beyond just the signage aspect of the project; they strive to provide an efficient, clearly designed and successful way-finding program.”

There are also common denominators when it comes to creating a way-finding program. “Purpose, look, location and implementation seem to be the common denominator to any way-finding program,” says Aiglon. “However, every project is different, based on the architects’ design and recommendations. A lot of blue prints come with one or several possible recommended sign systems. Depending on the program’s specifications, the sign maker may be able to suggest multiple sign systems and solutions that will accommodate their customer’s preferences and budget concerns. SignPRO Systems curved modular frames offer the flexibility of a customizable system, while providing a consistent, unifying look throughout a whole building.

Harris concurs. “The biggest planning that is required is to do the research for the location to understand the regulations and requirements for that area. You want to take into consideration any ADA requirements, any state requirements and county and city requirements. What we’re seeing now is that a lot of the time the local requirements are more stringent than federal requirements.”

“Licensing does not become an issue until you start to make the ADA compliant signage. When you’re making the ADA compliant signage you are required to purchase the Raster Braille process license for doing the inserted bead Braille,” he adds.

Schneider notes three main issues faced by signage professionals: “The first issue is the design and uniqueness of the product,” says Schneider. “Way-finding signs are not only a means of directing people, but are also a decorative element. This would explain the logic behind the un-proportional investments made in custom ordered designs, as well as the low popularity of the mundane modular systems.

“The second issue raised by the customer is the ease and cost of maintaining the signs. Way-finding signage may be characterized as a segment which requires frequent replacement of the information presented. Therefore, custom made signs are not your best choice if you want to avoid the image of handwritten directions posted on your fabulous custom made sign using taped up paper notes.

“The third issue, and often the first in the eyes of the customer, is the cost. As I have stated above the cost of custom made signage cannot compare to that of an MCFT system.

Current and Future Trends

The advances in print technology permit signage manufacturers to be more creative with their way-finding signage products. Harris speaks about the various ways in which signage is changing:

“The current trend is that more and more interior signage has decorative elements—so it may include texture or the illusion of texture through a printing process,” says Harris. It may include logos or raised elements or raised elements that are decorative. Five years ago interior signage was a two color sign; at best it had a logo on it. Now you have way-finding signage that is digitally printed that matches the pattern in the carpet. It may be printed to look like bamboo. It may be printed on bamboo. We’re seeing more and more renewable materials being used as elements in signage. It’s not uncommon to see signage printed on something like looks like cork for a background color or pattern. One trend that we’re seeing in interior signage is to become more creative and decorative. The CO2 lasers are being used more often to create more decorative elements. You move away from traditional rectangular shape signs.”

“Modular systems are in," says Aiglon. "While the industry remains active and signage projects continue to flourish both for existing buildings and new construction. Some of the way-finding signage budgets out there have constricted slightly; the result seems to be a shift from truly custom designs that come with a custom price tag, to modular systems, like SignPRO’s curved design, which has seen a substantial increase in demand over the past few years. Lower overall costs combined with the ease of printing and installation makes it a user-friendly and affordable solution for the customer. With systems like SignPRO, signs can combine the look of a custom design with the cost of a modular, off-the-shelf, updateable signage.”

But it's still important to create signage for specific markets. “The most interesting and significant issue within the signage market today is the ongoing trend of market segmentation," says Schneider. "The Way-Finding industry is on a set course towards dividing and splitting the said market into an ever growing number of sub-markets. We no longer have “general signage” but rather special signage for each specific domain.

According to Erez Halivni, CEO of Vista System International, "Market segmentation is a natural trend that will be impossible to stop. The end users want to be offered the perfect custom designed solutions, to meet their specific needs. They no longer want to hear the question 'What do you need?' as they rather hear the words 'This is what you need.'”