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For most significant property development projects, sooner or later wayfinding or signage will come up on the to do list.  If it’s something you’ve not had to deal with recently or ever - trying to identify suitable suppliers could prove a little baffling. Here's a little guidance on how and where to find suitable suppliers for the job.
Totem with text ranged in direction of travel

How to Find the Right Supplier for your Project

For most significant property development projects, sooner or later wayfinding or signage will come up on the to do list.  If it’s something you’ve not had to deal with recently or ever – trying to identify suitable suppliers could prove a little baffling.

Put signage supplier, wayfinding designer, wayfinding signage or anything similar into Google and you’ll come up with an extensive list. On closer inspection you’ll see that it includes a mix of manufacturers and wayfinding consultants.  So what exactly should you be looking for?

Much in the same way as an architect is hired to design a building and a construction firm to build it, a typical wayfinding project will require a:

  • Wayfinding consultant – to determine what is needed where and design what it will look like:
  • Sign fabricator – to manufacture and install it.

Difference Between a Wayfinding Consultancy and Sign Company

Generally, a wayfinding consultant will be part of the client design team and their contract will be with the developer, whereas the sign manufacturer is likely to be a sub-contractor to the construction firm. There is a distinct difference in skill sets and capabilities between wayfinding consultants and sign manufacturers.

Wayfinding Consultancy

Wayfinding is a specialist, multi-disciplinary design field. As well as the ability to interpret architectural plans, spaces, branding and understand the cognitive processes used in navigation; it requires skills in information, graphic and product design.

A wayfinding consultant will focus on the information needs of the people that will be using the building and business objectives of the client. They will analyse a place and people flows to determine where and what type of interventions are needed. These may be signs, but equally could involve the lighting, architectural and or landscape design. They will usually design the information, graphic and product elements.

Wayfinding design comes with its own unique conventions – including some that go against established practice in other design disciplines.

Differences in text layout - wayfinding consultant Vs Graphic Designer

On a directional sign, wayfinding good practice is for the destinations to be ranged according to the direction of travel, with the arrow placed at the corresponding leading edge of the sign.  

However, within the broader graphic design discipline, the convention when it comes to lists, is for the text and any associated graphic to be aligned and stacked one on top of the other. 

Sign Manufacturer

The signage company is responsible for manufacturing and installing the signs specified by the wayfinding consultant. They will translate the designs into the engineering drawings to enable the manufacture and assembly of the components that make up a sign; ensuring that the end results complies with relevant standards and meets Health and Safety requirements.

Although they are likely to have their own fabrication facilities and installers, they may sub-contract some items out to specialist suppliers.  Their primary focus is on the materials and engineering aspects of the implementation.

Sourcing Suppliers

Wayfinding Consultants – there is a well-established community of specialist wayfinding consultancies. Recommendations from colleagues, the wider project team (e.g. architect or project manager) are a valuable route for identifying suitable candidates.

Alternatively, The Sign Design Society (SDS) a UK based membership organisation for wayfinding practitioners provides a membership directory as does the US based SEGD
NB. Both organisations include sign manufacturer members.

Sign Manufacturers – There are a wide variety of sign fabricators available, which can make choosing the right partner a challenge.  As well as the ability to meet the design quality, you need to be confident that they have the capacity to deliver the volume of signs required; and that they will be able to service and maintain the scheme over the longer-term.

Your wayfinding consultant will be able to advise on suitable companies and the building contractor may also have a list of preferred suppliers. ISA-UK (international Sign Association) the main trade association for signage industry in the UK, lists members.

The SDS member directory mentioned above, also includes sign contractors. These are likely to be fabricators with experience of delivering large signage schemes.

Wayfinding Consultancy

  • Develop wayfinding strategy and design brief.
  • Produce the sign location plan and confirm mechanical fixings, electrical and data requirements.
  • Create a series of design concepts
  • Develop the design specification for all signs and graphic elements.
  • Produce tender pack for contractor appointment.
  • Identify potential bidders.
  • Brief and respond to bidder queries.
  • Review tenders, attend interviews and produce recommendation report.
  • Provide material for planning applications.
  • Brief and respond to queries from successful contractor/s.
  • Review engineering drawings, specifications, samples, prototypes.
  • Confirm sign content and produce graphic layouts and guidance for setting out information.
  • Provide artwork for specialist items e.g. maps, symbols and decorative graphics
  • Inspect installation and produce snagging report.

Sign Manufacturer

  • Carry out site survey to assess condition.
  • Undertake structural calculations.
  • Produce shop drawings, samples, materials and prototypes for review.
  • Order materials & components, in good time to ensure installation to programme.
  • Arrange for installation of sign footings as required.
  • Liaise with on-site team to agree installation timetable.
  • Manufacture items, allowing for inspection prior to installation.
  • Prepare graphic layouts and confirm final sign content.
  • Review site health and safety protocol;  attend training meeting where required and provide the health and safety documentation needed for access to site.
  • Ensure necessary installation equipment is available on site.
  • Delivery of items to site.
  • Install items against location plan.
  • Respond to snagging report with appropriate remedial action.
  • Provide a guarantee, servicing manual and or agree and implement maintenance regime. 

Finally - Just to complicate things…

As with most aspects of life, there are always exceptions to every rule. There are:

  • businesses that offer wayfinding consultancy alongside sign manufacture – but these tend to few and far between;
  • wayfinding consultancies that will buy signs on behalf of their clients;
  • signage companies that have in house graphics skills; and
  • architects and generalist design or communication agencies that may list wayfinding as a service.

Given the specialist nature of wayfinding as a discipline and the cost of installing a large signage scheme, it is worth digging deeper to assess the extent of a potential supplier’s expertise and experience. We’ve put together a list of quick questions to explore.

Key Questions to Ask

  1. Is wayfinding their primary business focus? Or are they a design agency that has previously developed a wayfinding solution as a part of a wider design or branding project. Or a Sign manufacturer whose expertise is in the engineering, fabrication and installing of wayfinding schemes, rather than the strategy development and creative design.
  2. Are they a member of The Sign Design Society (SDS) and or Society for Experiential Graphic Design (SEGD) and so keep abreast of latest thinking and best practice?
  3. Can they provide a selection of wayfinding case studies that are appropriate to your requirements and reflect the scale of your project?

After all, if you’ve invested £100,000s in developing a new or existing building; do you really want the walls plastered with homemade laminated signs to address shortcomings in the wayfinding signage?