What’s in a sign?

The tension between form and functionality is a constant trend in architecture and construction, with Apple’s much publicised new HQ in Cupertino, California a notable example. A company that so jealously guards its brand identity and places such high importance on its “look” will always face a challenge in assuring necessary functionality. When it comes to its electronic products, Apple has honed this into a fine art – leading the market on both counts – but can a construction project be managed in quite the same way?

Apple appears to be learning that it requires rather more than just scaling up the tried and tested iPod/iPhone/iPad method. As this recent article by Reuters attests, achieving Apple’s trademark smooth surfaces and minimalist finishes over 2.8 million-square-feet poses rather more – and very different – challenges than doing so for a device that can fit in your pocket.

When it comes to the signage in such a building, the same challenges apply. The enormous investment that is made in designing and constructing a building counts for little if careful thought is not given as to how the signage integrates with the finished product and brings it all together. Irrespective of the quality of the building, poor signage, be it unclear, unattractive or simply incongruous with its surroundings, leads to bad user experiences, and consequently, negative brand association.

In the case of Apple of course, the look and the brand identity is of particular (somewhat legendary) importance and as Reuters reports, this poses considerable challenges when it comes to their signage:

Signage required a delicate balancing act: Apple wanted all signs to reflect its sleek, minimalist aesthetic, but the fire department needed to ensure the building could be swiftly navigated in an emergency.

Dirk Mattern, a retired deputy fire chief who is representing the Santa Clara County Fire Department on the project, estimated he attended 15 meetings that touched on the topic.

“I’ve never spent so much time on signage,” he said.

Apple is of course correct to recognise the importance of reflecting its brand identity in its signage, but as they are discovering, achieving this while also delivering ease of use and regulatory compliance is notoriously difficult. There is no hard and fast formula for getting this right every time, for every company and organisation, in every building. All projects are different, and all require this careful balancing act to be negotiated with sensitivity and skill.

With more than 30 years’ experience doing just this, Signbox has proved itself an able and effective custodian of some of the worlds’ biggest brands: Microsoft, Deloittes and Google, to name a few. Achieving that perfect balance of form and functionality – and seamless integration – is what we do for clients on a daily basis.

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