By Linda K. Monroe
Building professionals take note: The wide variety of signage materials, configurations, modularity, and flexibility can allow you to take off-the-shelf, made-to-order products and give them your own signature look. "In essence," says Kathy Kluck, vice president of sales and marketing at Grand Rapids, MI-based 2/90 Sign Systems Inc. (www.290signs.com), "if someone can dream it, we can most likely build it."
The main advantage to tailoring such readily available systems, according to Kluck, is that it's much easier to handle and maintain change - during and after a program is in place. "Quite often, before large projects even leave our manufacturing floor, the client already has copy changes ... people come and go so quickly! Accommodating those situations - plus obtaining additional signage at a later time - is simple, straightforward, and less complicated than with completely custom signage," she explains, noting, however, that building owners looking for a particular aesthetic may use a blend of custom- and standard-system products.
Although different types of facilities have diverse signage requirements and budgets (see What Should Signage Cost?, in sidebar), Kluck points to change as a common factor across all building categories. "A really good signage system should live with a facility for many, many years," she states. "If you're responsible for [the space needs] of a company or a facility in which people move around a lot, you need signage that is flexible and changeable. You may invest more in modular signage vs. non-changeable signage in the beginning, but you'll get a significantly better return on investment for the long haul. The first thing to consider is how much change and turnover a company or facility will actually undergo over a period of 1 year, a few years, and several years."
Unfortunately, discussions and decisions about signage needs are often an addendum to a project, when, in fact, they are actually critical to how a building functions and should be among the topics addressed early in the planning process. "The whole science of getting people to, through, and out of a facility is highly specialized; building professionals should treat it as such," contends Kluck. "It's obvious when signage isn't working, but the goal should be for it to work and not be obvious." By making a master sign plan a key component of pre-development meetings (and the entire project), signage solutions can be value-engineered to be most effective and maximize the best long-term return on investment.
When evaluating a signage program, don't be blindsided by initial costs alone. "Too often, people look at what it's going to cost to ‘buy signs for this building.' What really needs to be factored into the planning, however, is the total cost: the products, the installation, and the long-term maintenance," explains Kluck. "You can have the most beautiful, well-crafted signs in the world, but if they're put up without the proper hardware and not leveled off, the result looks shoddy.
"Particularly in larger facilities, it's also very important to have some kind of maintenance program, which some signage manufacturers offer (inclusive of 48-hour replacement turnaround time)," she adds. "I can't tell you how often we'll go into a facility to consult on a signage program and see names printed on pieces of paper [that are] taped on top of other names."
From initial planning to product selection and installation, and from change-outs to ongoing maintenance, a well-designed and implemented signage program makes an important statement about an organization's identity and its commitment to helping people navigate safely and efficiently.
Linda K. Monroe (firstname.lastname@example.org) is editorial director at Buildings magazine.