Published on Wednesday 24 February 2016
Walk down any high street, through any business district or out of town commercial estate and you’ll see the results of huge investments by firms in their brand. A branding agency may have conducted extensive research to define the brand; tested it with consumer groups and explored its use across different applications – website, corporate literature, stationery. Senior management will have agonised over the detail for weeks. Once satisfied, the outcome will be summarised in a guidelines document providing strict instructions on how the brand components are to be used – the colour references, fonts, spacing, rules governing use of logo with strap lines, spatial relationships between text and graphics identifiers etc.
Whether it’s a shop, office, hospital or school – an organisation’s buildings are a very tangible expression of their brand and so warrant individual attention. And the thing with applying a brand to a firm’s buildings – no two locations will be the same. Context is everything, making it difficult to be very prescriptive about the approach to branding within a firm’s premises in a design manual. What works well and delivers impact on a standard web page is likely to need tuning to deliver similar when applied to a range of buildings, of different sizes and architectural styles.
Cast a critical eye over the retailer signs along any High St. I guarantee you’ll notice unfortunate joins in fascia boards; visible screw/bolt heads; fixings that detract from the design quality; or a one-size fits all approach that fails to exploit the building architecture. That’s before you get onto general maintenance.
Perhaps it’s the specialist nature of graphic design within the built environment. The requirement to understand materials, fabrication processes, fixings, lighting and the ability to interpret the architectural design and brand guidelines with a creative design approach – that’s at the root of the problem. Or potentially the number of specialist intermediaries involved in the process – brand consultant, sign fabricator, sign installer. But the attention to detail lavished on print and digital communication can fall a little short when applied to a firm’s buildings. There seems to be a missing link between the brand guardians and the engineering design – a creative design approach capable of translating the brand intent to maximise the specific features of individual locations with a quality engineered finish.
Don’t get me wrong this is not intended to be a criticism of the trade - there are some great examples where the exterior signage creates a compelling entrance and expression of the brand. Equally there are others where the design quality of the signage can let a brand down. So what’s the answer? For design led brands – employing a specialist designer with the necessary creative skills and understanding of the engineering processes to ensure that the brand best exploits the opportunity for individual locations might be sensible. For others it could just be a question of educating buyers so that they provide a tighter specification. Or maybe there’s a role for a design auditor or advisor that sits at the interface been the brand guardian, manufacturer and installer to ensure delivery of a quality product that aligns with the brand requirements.