Wayfinding Signs: Now Making Cities Healthier?

We’ve written before about citizens taking municipal signage problems into their own hands. Last year, designer Nikki Sylianteng started her own rollout of graphically-oriented parking signage for New York City. Sylianteng’s project had a simple goal: to clarify parking rules with graphics, rather than the word salad that’s crowded NYC’s signs for years.

In Raleigh, North Carolina, Urban Planning graduate student Matt Tomasulo tried a similar approach for a different problem. How might he get his neighbors to walk more and drive less? The problem itself might surprise you, but to Tomasulo, potential public health benefits make it one worth trying to solve. And finding that solution, he decided, was too important to wait for City Hall.

The initial result of Tomasulo’s ambition was a small but readable wayfinding sign that indicated how long it would take to walk to a nearby landmark or neighborhood business. They also included QR codes that gave directions (and also tracked how many people used that particular feature of the sign).

Matt Tomasulo Installs Walk Raleigh SignTomasulo installs one of the earliest Walk Raleigh signs. Image provided by Walk [Your City].

Raleigh’s a relatively walkable city. Despite that, residents he interviewed argued that most neighborhood destinations were just too far away for traveling by foot. When Tomaluso found that “too far” was anywhere from two to fifteen minutes of walking, he embarked on a mission to raise awareness of that fact in hopes that it would keep more cars in driveways—and get more people walking.

DIY Political Pushback

Tomaluso, like Sylianteng, encountered a slight legal problem with his project. Though he notes, as Slate describes, that he “very intentionally did not deface public property” with his signs—they were posted with zip ties—the city of Raleigh removed the signs after news outlets wondered why the “technically illegal” signs were still up.

Despite their government, the citizens of Raleigh weren’t having it: after a bit of outcry, the city brought Tomaluso’s project under the umbrella of their own officially sanctioned signage initiatives, and Tomaluso donated the signs to the city to be reposted.

Scaling Signage for the Masses

In the face of his local success, Tomaluso turned to figuring out how he could scale this project for other cities. After a quick name change—from “Walk Raleigh” to “Walk [Your City]”—along with the more cumbersome tasks of assembling a design and distribution team and providing downloadable templates, Tomaluso’s project started to spread.

Their first big investment success was with Kickstarter: after an initial campaign provided the team with just under $12,000 for the project, Tomaluso started a website to provide sign design for those who wished to undertake similar projects in their cities.

In February, that spread got a bit of a boost: Walk [Your City] received a $182,000 grant from the Knight Foundation, and new pilot projects are to be launched in Lexington, Kentucky, and in San Jose, California.

Tomaluso notes that despite the massive influx of capital, Walk [Your City] projects are just one small part of the solution needed to improve public health. They’re an immediate solution for pedestrians and bikers, but Tomaluso himself notes that “so much is missing to complete that process” of getting folks out of their cars and onto the sidewalk.

What started out as a single person’s DIY initiative has now sprung into a movement in several cities across the United States. Despite its wide adoption, though, that movement’s efficacy remains unclear.

At ASA, our methods have been proven again and again. Whether you need sign planning for a city or a hospital, to direct or to inform—or both!–we can help. So contact us!


Aggression Reduction: Good Design Makes Hospitals Safer

Last year, dezeen reports, the Department of Health Design Council in the UK—with the help of design firm PearsonLloyd–discovered a surprising way to reduce violence and aggression in emergency departments: signage design.

PearsonLloyd’s team—which included service designers, psychoanalysts, hospital consultants, and social scientists—identified the main sources of patient and visitor aggression. The key elements that led to agitation levels high enough to lead to staff abuse seem to boil down to a lack of understanding: whether it’s the clinical language or why some patients are seen before others, it’s no surprise that being confused in an already stressful setting can lead to verbal or physical violence.

Emergency department brochureOne way PearsonLloyd improved the Emergency Department experience: a brochure explaining the department’s treatment process. Image courtesy PearsonLloyd

Aggression in the Healthcare Industry

This problem isn’t local to the UK, either: one study first published in OJIN: The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing notes that, in the United States, “aggression [exposure] rates in health care workers…are higher” than the average rate for American workers across all industries.

And according to the National Institute of Health, “health care patients, the most common perpetrators of nonfatal workplace violence, were responsible for 45% of all nonfatal assaults in 1992.” Moreover, exposure to verbal aggression in emergency departments can be as high as 75 to 100%; the OJIN-published study also found a reported physical aggression rate of 67% in emergency departments.

Emergency department ceiling signCeiling-mounted signage helps patients know where they are at any point in the potentially disorienting process. Image courtesy PearsonLloyd

So: functional, holistic signage isn’t just key to helping your patients and visitors navigate a medical facility—it’s also a key security component for staff and patients alike.

The PearsonLloyd project included elements ranging from ceiling-mounted identification signage to informational pamphlets, and dezeen reports that the redesign was found to reduce aggression and violence by as much as 50%.

Their solution focused not just on providing information in a clear, concise way, but also on calming things down by providing an overview of the department’s assessment and treatment processes. Whether it was the widespread use of blue or the thorough explanations of hospital practices and procedures, the new design seems to have worked.

At Architectural Sign Associates, when it comes to safety, we use a focus on ADA and other code compliance as a starting point. Our accessible designs, collaboration with facility staff, and detailed planning processes also address many aspects of safety and usability.

We can help your facility accomplish its signage goals, whatever they may be. Contact us to find out how.


USPS Retail Locations Get A Design Makeover

Calling it “the largest retail rebrand project in American History,” Dezeen magazine reports that GrandArmy recently completed its redesign of 31,000 United States Postal Service stores across the country.

The project was a tricky one. Because none of the buildings could be changed architecturally, the designers stuck to “a ‘paper and paint’ solution” that saw new design concepts for almost all of the postal services’ products, from signage to boxes to smartphone apps.

USPS Signs
Image courtesy GrandArmy

GrandArmy’s goal was to create a unified system for a simpler and faster user experience. To achieve this, the project “boils down to three colour fields, three typefaces, and a simple ratio that determines the size of elements between them.” The result is a clear and bold system that uses strong lines, sharp corners, and color contrast to evoke the USPS’s dedication to its mission and its place as one of America’s oldest institutions.

USPS Graphic Posters
Images courtesy GrandArmy

Rebranding, Cost, and Signage

Rebranding can be a big investment for any company, and although there’s no word from Dezeen or GrandArmy on how much the USPS rebranding efforts cost, they were no doubt expensive—especially for such a large, visible, and thorough project.

At ASA, we integrate new logos and branding into sign systems all the time. In fact, rebranding efforts are often the main factor in a facility’s need for new signage. We help facilities keep costs down by incorporating design that is timeless in style and by recommending modular sign systems so that, in the event a facility does want to rebrand again in the future, the system may not need to be completely replaced.

Thinking about changing your facility’s style? Contact us to see how we can help.


Making Hospitals Better—for Healthcare Staff

At ASA, we do a lot of signage and wayfinding design for large, complex medical facilities. Our efforts tend to stay focused on patient and visitor needs: How can we help them find their destinations in these huge hospital campuses? How can we create signage that simultaneously directs and reassures stressed-out patients and visitors?

These are big questions, and as designers and planners, we go to great lengths to observe and record signage deficiencies and other issues in terms of the patient experience as we study our clients’ facilities.

One question we don’t always ask first is how our work can improve the staff’s experience. Part of the answer is pretty direct: as we improve patients’ orientation and wayfinding experiences, those patients don’t have to rely on medical personnel so much to find their destinations; thus, staff members have more time to dedicate to their life-saving work. But what else can make that work easier?

Staff area in US Navy ICU
A central staff area at a US Navy ICU aboard the USNS Comfort. Image courtesy Wikimedia commons.

Designing Staff Workspaces

Healthcare Design magazine recently examined how medical facilities can and do use design to optimize the medical work environment for employees. The benefits, claims Carolyn BaRoss, Perkins+Will’s healthcare interior design director, are crucial: “It’s in healthcare organizations’ best interest to have happy and healthy staff who enjoy their workplace and are as effective as possible in it.”

The Healthcare Design article and BaRoss describe several key points for creating these environments. Locating and designing break rooms to provide a clean division between treatment areas and staff break areas offers personnel a chance to “refresh and recharge,” and the amenities in these break areas—from recliners to meditation spaces—create areas of diversion that “allow caregivers some respite from the reminders of work.”

Design can better accommodate workers on the clock, too. In one renovated emergency department, Perkins+Will implemented partially private workstations in open team areas using glazed partitions; these partitions allowed staff to concentrate on their work even while keeping an eye on their patients.

Using Signage to Make Enough Space for Everyone

Although we tend to focus on the patient experience, we make sure to consider staff needs as well. As mentioned above, creating distinct spaces for facility personnel is a key component of enabling a clean break between work and break time. Although architectural and interior design planning are the primary components of strong staff support systems, a quality signage system can also help create these spaces.

Wayfinding sign with restroom listing
Clear and consistent wayfinding signage reduces patient stress and reliance on staff.

For example, when we plan sign systems, we tend to identify staff restrooms and break areas as “Staff Only” areas. It might seem like a bit of an omission not to mark a restroom as a restroom; however, facility staff already tend to know where these areas are. Signing these rooms as restrooms or break areas amplify the possibility that patients and visitors will ignore the “Staff Only” idea.

Directing patients and visitors only to public areas in a clear, consistent way helps reduce staff stress and time lost helping people navigate. This strategy, though it might seem subtle, helps to ensure the privacy of staff-specific areas.

Wondering how your facility can better manage your employee’s needs while maintaining a positive patient experience? Contact us to see how we can help.


Parking Signs: A Crowdsourced Design

Late last year, we briefly examined recent design updates to New York City’s parking signage. Pentagram’s new design offered a sleek look with sharper type and more white space, and the result was a sign system that offered subtle differences alongside improved readability.

As of our post on the subject, 450 signs—out of the thousands in the city—had already been installed. But at least one resident still wasn’t happy with the state of the city’s signage. Designer Nikki Sylianteng took matters into her own hands, eschewing the text-centric parking signs for a more graphic approach.

Parking sign layout
One of Sylianteng’s design concepts for the new parking signage. Image courtesy Sylianteng’s project page.

A Picture’s Worth a Parking Ticket

Sylianteng’s new design provides green and red bars in a table format to make parking times and days clearer at a glance. What’s most novel about her project, though, is how she’s collecting feedback on her work—and how she incorporates that feedback into the next iteration of her signage.

The effort is two-pronged: each posted sign comes paired with a feedback poster and a marker, and Sylianteng also solicits and discusses criticism via her blog and e-mail. What’s more, her efforts have paid off. Based on this feedback, she’s already made several tweaks to the design to make the signs more clear and to help the colorblind read them more easily.

Parking sign field feedback
One of Sylianteng’s new signs in the field, complete with valuable user feedback! Image courtesy Sylianteng’s project page.

Though the project likely won’t take the city by storm, it’s a solid attempt to help the local community. And, since it’s a personal project, Sylianteng can avoid the signage regulations slowing down the installation of Pentagram’s updated design.

Wondering how your clients see your signage? Skip the crowdsourcing and ask the professionals! Contact us to learn more about renovating your signage system. (We promise not to insult you in Sharpie.)


Table-Side Tablet Computers Boost Restaurant Sales

In our series on digital signage, we looked at how wayfinding might be revolutionized by the emergence of cutting-edge software and hardware, from freestanding digital kiosks, to AskCody’s interior smartphone mapping, even to Phillips’ LED carpets.

The signage industry isn’t the only one to reap the benefits from new technologies like these. Bloomberg BusinessWeek reports that, after a successful rollout of table-mounted tablet computers, Chili’s Grill & Bar will expand their Ziosk tablet-based food ordering system to most of its U.S. restaurants this year.

Automating the Service Industry

It’s easy to assume that this decision stems from an effort to cut costs by reducing workforce, but Nicole Cochran, senior director of marketing at Chili’s, insists that isn’t the case: “The real allure of the tablets, Chili’s has found, is that they reliably increase the size of the average check.” Ziosk, the tablets’ manufacturer, claims restaurant goers ordered 20% more appetizers and 30% more desserts.

It’s not just the tablets themselves driving sales—it’s how Chili’s uses them. Having a tablet on the table when hungry patrons sit down means they don’t have to wait for a menu to start ordering. And whether they order right away or not, the tablet shows them what they could be eating: “pictures of molten chocolate cake and other sweets pop up while diners are still on the main course.”

Ziosk ordering tablet
A Ziosk ordering tablet.

Patrons don’t just order more—they tip more. And, even though the tablets offer games to play ($.99 for the duration of your visit), patrons leave faster. It sounds like good news all around for the restaurant chains, though wait staff and customer perspectives were notably absent from the BusinessWeek piece. There’s no word on customer satisfaction—or on how the tablets handle custom orders and special dietary needs.

Trying Touch Screens Again

This isn’t the first time touch-screen computing has nosed its way into the American restaurant business. Technology like this has been in place in other countries like Japan for years, and Microsoft introduced a similar idea in the late 2000’s with its introduction of the original Surface.

Now called PixelSense, the original Surface was marketed as a table-sized touch computing device that could offer a user experience similar to Ziosk’s tablets—super-convenient ordering and payment at restaurants. Now, PixelSense is marketed more toward retail, hospitality, and media businesses than toward the service industry; as far as touch-screen computing in restaurants goes, Ziosk seems to have picked up where Microsoft left off.

What Could This Mean for Signage and Wayfinding?

We’ve already explored some solutions we’ve engineered for our clients on the digital wayfinding front—our self-service mapping kiosks provide a combined solution with digital and custom-printed maps—but what could Ziosk’s successful tablets imply for wayfinding?

The Ziosk solution offers a way to combine and streamline information with sales initiatives (with apparently great success), and there’s no reason it needs to stop at restaurants. Airlines already take a similar approach with their self-service check-in and wayfinding kiosks; customers can use the kiosks to easily find directions, review flight information, check extra bags, or upgrade to first class.

The applications, clearly, depend on the specific needs of the business. Thinking of trying to streamline your facility’s operations with digital solutions? Contact us to see how we can help, or to learn more about scheduling a facility assessment.


How Good Design Saves Lives

For the first time in over a century, a familiar American icon—the fire hydrant—is undergoing a major redesign. As reported by Jessica Hullinger for Co.Exist, former New York firefighter George Sigelakis (founder of Sigelock Systems) wants to do away with old fire hydrants—and with their surprisingly widespread problems.

Hullinger makes a solid case for the new design’s necessity. Citing multiple instances of frozen, absent, or malfunctioning hydrants, Hullinger and Sigelakis paint a dire picture. A fire in Long Island was made much worse when nearby hydrants were frozen; a fire in Detroit cost a girl her life when firefighters couldn’t find a nearby functional hydrant. Sigelakis warns that “it would shock you how often fire hydrants don’t work when you need them.”

Traditional and Sigelock fire hydrant designs
An older hydrant alongside a custom-painted Sigelock Spartan hydrant.
Images courtesy of Wikimedia and Sigelock Systems.

A Less-Than-Perfect Record

Though the concept of “fire plugs” is older than the United States—the concept itself goes back to at least the 17th century—the invention of the familiar, pillar-style hydrants “is generally credited to Frederick Graff Sr., chief Engineer of the Philadelphia Water Works around the year 1801.” That’s “generally credited” because the original patent was lost when the Washington, D.C., patent office caught fire in 1836.

Fighting Fire with … Design

Sigelakis took a holistic approach to the new design: it’s much more tamper-resistant; it uses corrosion-, leak-, and rot-resistant metals; and its internal composition has been reengineered to prevent excess water from freezing when the temperature drops.

The company claims the hydrant is maintenance-free, and public works officials are beginning to take notice. Installation has been growing in Segelakis’ own home neighborhood of Long Beach, New York, especially after Superstorm Sandy knocked out a large portion of the city’s old hydrants last year.

So far, 150 Sigelock System hydrants have been installed across 11 states, and Sigelakis hopes they’ll become more widespread as they prove their strength over time.

This story serves as a reminder that even everyday items that we rarely give a second thought are the products of design, either good or bad, and can have an impact on safety. We may not design hydrants, but in planning and designing signage, it’s always important to keep life safety and emergency services in mind.

Concerned about your facility’s safety or code compliance? Get in touch! Contact us to learn more about scheduling a signage assessment for your facility.


Without Pantone Colors, Where Would We Be?

For signage and wayfinding design, one of the most important considerations can be the color scheme of a sign program. And let’s face it, sometimes color is one of the most fun design elements we work with.

There are a lot of questions to ask when deciding on a color scheme: How do I want the signage to interact with the client’s previously-established facility branding? How will the colors interact with facility interior design? Do I want warm or cool shades? Will there be logos, zone colors, or other symbols and graphics on the signs?

The Beauty of Color Standards

Whatever questions we need to ask, our job as designers would be much harder without the Pantone color standards. Pantone, the self-described “world-renowned authority on color,” makes it easy to accurately communicate color palettes from designer, to consumer, to manufacturer by using a wide variety of products. The most familiar is Pantone’s color chip matching system, but the company now offers software and smartphone apps to aid in the color-picking process as well.

By maintaining these industry standards and making them available in a wide variety of media, Pantone makes it much easier for designers to offer clients an accurate representation of the colors they want to work with—whether that representation is on paper or on a digital display.

Long Ago, a World Without Pantone

1692 Color Swatches
Images courtesy of e-corpus.org.

Pantone’s color standards are fairly widespread now, but they first began to form in 1963, when Lawrence Herbert founded Pantone and introduced the “Pantone Matching System®, a book of standardized color in fan format.” But the questions that designers must ask are much older than that. So how did color work one, two, or even three hundred years ago?

A few weeks ago, The Verge reported on a 1692 Dutch manuscript that sought to solve some of the problems that Pantone solves today. The manuscript, intended for educational use by watercolor painters, contains a large array of hand-painted color blocks, with annotations explaining how to mix colors and how to change their tone by adding water.

The manuscript may not offer communicability to the extent that Pantone does, but it represents what must be one of the first responses to the problem that Pantone solves so extensively today—that is, the need to describe and reproduce what someone else has seen, no matter how differently they’ve seen it. The entire manuscript is available to view online.

Need some color updates to your facility’s signage? Rely on our expertise! Contact us for a free facility sign assessment.


Digital Signage & Wayfinding, Part III

In our last post on digital signage and wayfinding, we thought a bit about the ways digital and analog signage solutions can work together. In this week’s post, we look more at how the concept of wayfinding is evolving for the digital age and some recent examples of those concepts in action.

How is Digital Wayfinding Changing Things?

In “Signage v. Smartphones”, an article published online by Desktop Magazine, Bridget Atkinson highlights a few of the major changes in wayfinding. The most relevant shift in the user experience is the evolution of how those users orient themselves. Atkinson suggests that the latest models of the wayfinding experience are more “user-centric”; they define a destination in relation to the specific user rather than in relation to the surrounding landscape. (Think “This is there!” instead of “You are here!”)

'You are here' indicator within a maze

She continues, highlighting how the “emergence of hybrid maps and personal journey apps enable[s] us to create…our own individual routes, rather than the highway or primary route defined by the site.” Time, too, becomes an increasingly critical dimension of wayfinding, to the extent that “in some cases, the extension of time [overrides] distance as the key parameter of the journey.”

It’s easy to see these concepts in practice. A GPS app’s traffic data might send its user on a slightly longer (but faster) rush-hour route, or a user might make the route modification himself in order to bypass a bridge or road construction. In either case, the journey is tailored to the traveler’s specific needs. But Atkinson’s thoughts—and these examples—are easy to apply to vehicular navigation. So how might these concepts translate to facility wayfinding?

Applying Wayfinding’s Conceptual Evolution on a Smaller Scale

These ideas don’t work quite the same way for facility wayfinding. For starters, traffic and construction aren’t usually as much of a problem as they can be on the road, and trips in facilities are (hopefully!) much shorter. Still: time is a critical factor in the wayfinding experience, and several advances in signage and wayfinding tech go a long way toward making that experience more user-centric.

One of these advances comes from AskCody, a Denmark-based company focused on integrating digital wayfinding and guest management. Their flagship product, WayFinder, offers a user-centric wayfinding experience that users can access from their phones or from facility-handled displays.

The AskCody platform mixes up the mold a bit: the maps it offers are still a “you-are-here” kind of experience, but that can change as the phone’s location changes. Moreover, this kind of mapping still typically provides a static route; that said, using the details a smartphone map can provide, users can change their routes as they deem necessary. The best perk of a system like AskCody’s, though, is the smart integration of wayfinding and dynamic facility information. Instead of just looking for a room, users can navigate with the end goal of finding a particular person or meeting space.

Smartphone-based wayfinding isn’t the only, or even the most surprising, innovation in indoor wayfinding, though. Late last year, Philips and Desso announced their partnership to develop LED light transmissive carpets for indoor wayfinding.

Though the technology is still in development, it’s not hard to imagine how these might solve useful problems for indoor wayfinding: these carpets could, for example, display different route information for different events or emergencies. In terms of the user-centric model, this solution and others like it offer a dynamic approach similar to AskCody’s, even as they lose some of the user-specific customizability that a smartphone app might provide.

From smartphone apps, to LED carpets, to even Braille interfaces for iPhones, it’s clear that digital wayfinding is leading to innovative solutions even as it clings to some of the conceptual functions of analog signage.

Looking for ways to integrate the old with the new? Contact us to see how we can help, or to request a free facility assessment.


Test Your Knowledge: Font Recognition

In our last post, we discussed how a crowd favorite font was recently revisited with a slightly new look. To most designers and typographers, even small changes in a typeface can have a significant impact. But how many of us can identify particular fonts when we see them in our everyday lives?

Some might be more difficult than you’d think. With so many fonts to choose from in today’s design world, how many are you really familiar with?

Take our quiz to find out. Choose what typeface you think is in each example.


Have a question or need some help? Contact us today.