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Investing in a New Wayfinding Scheme? Don't Forget the Back of House

When designing a new wayfinding scheme, there is a tendency to focus on the main public spaces. Here we discuss why it's important not to forget about the back of house requirements and some tips for getting the most out of your investment.
Large scale directional signs painted directly on the wall in the 20 Fenchurch St offices basement

Early in my career I was an account manager for a well-known global consumer brand in the food and beverage sector, looking after luxury department stores, themed restaurants and several upmarket London hotels. So, I spent much of my time in places frequented by the rich and famous. However, the people I came to see were behind ‘Staff Only’ doors. Unsurprisingly the staff environments tended to be a world away from the glitz and glamour of the front of house. My residing memory is of dark labyrinthine, featureless corridors in basements and out of the way spaces. Fortunately, most of the time I was escorted and didn’t need to find my own way round.

Importance of a Back of House Wayfinding Strategy

Over the years The Velvet Principle has worked on several back of house wayfinding projects. Layouts are often shaped by front of house requirements and architectural constraints, making them difficult spaces to understand. Combined with the functional and uniform nature of the design, these operational areas can be challenging from a wayfinding, orientation and navigation perspective.

Rarely will these spaces be the exclusive domain of staff. Suppliers, prospective employees, servicing contractors will pass through daily, and even clients and customers may venture in on a frequent basis.  When you’ve got loaded trolleys regularly trundling up and down hallways, bumping into walls, leaving tracks on the floor, clearly the interior needs to be functional and easy to clean. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t create a welcoming environment that makes staff feel valued and presents a positive image to visitors. Given the current level of vacancies in the hospitality sector, an attractive working environment is increasingly a must.

Design Considerations

Front of house wayfinding signs in 20 Fenchurch St
Back of house wayfinding in basement of 20 Fenchurch st offices

Comparison between the front of house and back of house wayfinding in 20 Fenchurch St offices. The same font, graphic symbols and colour are used throughout the building, but the information is applied in very different ways to suit the environment.

The good news is it doesn’t have to be expensive. While consistency in terminology and graphic language between front and back of house is a must; the sign forms and materials should be appropriate to the environment. Wayfinding signs, featuring high quality bronze cast letters may be just what is needed to complement the interior finishes front of house. But will look seriously out of place in the more functional service corridors.

Supergraphic male bathroom identity sign painted onto the walls in the back office areas in 20 Fenchurch St
Large super graphic level identification back of house signs in 20 Fenchurch St offices

Super-graphics, painted directly onto the walls are used to identify different facilities and floor levels. As well as providing wayfinding guidance, the graphics add character and help enliven an otherwise functional area, in a cost effective way.

An example of this differentiation can be seen in our work on 20 Fenchurch St, a commercial office building in the City of London. Within the customer areas, the wayfinding information is communicated on stainless steel panels in a design that reflects the identity of the building. Whereas in the basement, which houses the operations staff and building services, large scale graphics are painted directly onto the walls. This ensures that the information is clearly visible and enlivens what would otherwise be a very dull environment, in a very cost-effective way.

The Benefits

When used appropriately the design of information and graphics implemented within buildings, have a valuable role in communicating the character and identity of a place. The staff and how they interact with customers are also a manifestation of the brand. Although staff selection processes and training are the key mechanisms for ensuring alignment, the design of the working environment has an important role in reinforcing the brand.

Few customers may venture into the back of house, but it’s where your staff are likely to spend all or a significant portion of their working day. If it looks like you don’t care enough about them to invest in their working environment, there is a risk it may translate in their interactions with your customers.