Graphics of all types, but signage in particular, are a worthwhile investment for a number of reasons. They can create an immediate feeling about an organization's character. Environmental graphics are the first impression you get. From any facility, you are going to receive mental feedback, and it can be either pleasant or frustrating. How much the graphics help will give an impression of how much those people planning the facility thought of you. Signage is increasingly used as an expression of corporate identity. We are incorporating graphics and color scheme more and more into our signage to convey a message about a company.

Creative, fun signage can even be considered an added value to your employees Anything that differentiates you from another place can be construed as an amenity; successful navigation is an amenity. And for today's young, "media-expectant" laborers, funky graphics might make them feel at home at a certain company or make a potential client think, "We can win with these folks, because how could the people who created an environment so energizing not be successful?"

Effective graphics are also a very efficient communications tool. It is an extremely easy way to convey information at a low-cost. You don't have to staff it, and it's always there.

And, of course, wayfinding is always essential. Given today's high churn rates, even a clearly laid out facility with few visitors needs to help its employees find and identify each other.

Design that sign

Unfortunately, environmental graphics-one of the last elements to be designed and placed in a new or renovated facility-often seem to be at the mercy of a strapped budget. The poor landscape architects and signage guys are the last to come on a site and that is when budgets are blown. Nevertheless, somewhere down the line the lack of signage-at least as a wayfinding tool-will probably haunt you, at which point some decisions will need to be made about where and what type of graphics to employ.

Code compliance, particularly with the new ADA (Americans with Disabilities) laws, is an important consideration when designing signage for your facility. You will need ADA-compliant signage to get a certificate of occupancy. Many people overlook that, and we find ourselves getting last-minute calls saying, 'We're not allowed to move in until we have Braille signs on our doors.' Depending on the location, building codes governing life-safety signage (evacuation maps, mechanical rooms, bathrooms, elevators, etc.) will vary, and it is up to you to find out exactly what is expected, which is not always easy. There is no central repository of knowledge on this subject.

Examining who your audience will be is also elementary to effective graphics, especially when designing signage for wayfinding. A sign in a bar should be different from a sign in an academic environment or at the opera. It is very important to have an idea of who your users are, their culture, language, visual skills, their familiarity with the environment. Likewise, keep in mind the nature of the company that is using the signage. If there are few visitors to your facility, you may not need many wayfinding graphics. If hierarchy is important, you may want to identify employee cubicles by title as well as name. And then there is churn. How much change do you anticipate? Because you can engineer modularity into your signage consistent with the amount of change.

And when revamping existing environmental graphics, there are other things to take into account. There is equity in an existing identity. You never want to throw that out. You want to evolve toward a solution, because it indicates stability and it costs less money than starting from scratch.

Once the project is finished, don't forget to test your design. Never assume what you have created is going to be effective. You are not necessarily a user of the sign. And misplaced or ill-conceived signage can be particularly detrimental in terms of wayfinding. Signs are linked, and people don't realize that making one change may mean making five or six others. Having users test these situations will prevent future confusion.

Lastly, environmental graphics must be maintained. If they aren't kept up, individuals will make their own types of corrections-Post-It notes, loose pieces of paper. The facility ends up looking sloppy, and too far down the road it becomes a big project to fix the situation. As environmental graphics become recognized as a type of amenity, more companies of all shapes, sizes, and persuasions are employing maintenance services. Other organizations have specified signage systems that allow them to make corrections in-house.

One sign fits all

Signage standardization is becoming increasingly important to corporations. It creates unity across multiple facilities and simplifies the reordering and maintenance process. You don't have to reinvent the wheel every time you do a project.

Develop a template floor plan, so that the numbering can be consistent. There should be an address for every possible workstation in the building. Whether you used that address today or not, the blank is there for it in the grid.

We can include a color designating which of the buildings you are in, where on the floor you are (they are divided into quadrants), and the address number of the cubicle, kitchen, copy room, conference room, etc. This helps not only employees find their way around the center, it is also a tool for property management. If you have a light bulb out or a leak, you can say 'I'm in workstation such and such,' which gives the full address, including the tower number, quadrant, and workstation number. It's identification for the employees, but also a wayfinding tool for the property management people.

Author's Bio: 

Julian Arhire is a Manager with - carries more than 35,000 HVAC products, including industrial, commercial and residential parts and equipment from Honeywell, Johnson Contols, Robertshaw, Jandy, Grundfos, Armstrong and more.