Most of us have difficulty looking at a layout or technical drawing and imagining how it will translate to a 3D object. There’s an inherent disconnect among what we see, what we expect, and what we get as a finished product. And that has the potential to lead to disappointment and conflict among design teams and brand stakeholders.
In a rebranding program, signage, especially exterior signage, is the most prominent source of that disconnect. That’s for a number of reasons. Signs are expensive, so errors and rework are costly. They’re highly visible — everyone sees them, from customers to employees, including the CEO — so they need to look exactly like what was approved. Finally, signs can be technically challenging to manufacture: Matching colors across substrates and illumination systems and rendering highly detailed logos in solid surfaces takes skilled craftsmanship.
Manage expectations with prototypes
While software can produce dimensional renderings with animated, 360° views, the best way to predict how a 2D sketch will appear in 3D is to develop a prototype. In working with design agencies and their clients to implement rebranding programs, we’ve recognized the value in creating real prototypes of signage systems — as a way to build consensus around a concept and to wisely manage the budget.
Design agencies commonly deliver identity and brand guidelines that document colors, type, and logo usage. But even the most detailed standards manual can’t describe how the brand will come fully to life in three dimensions.
When we conduct logo studies during a rebranding, we find that the design may look great on websites, uniforms, and letterhead — but when it becomes a full-scale object on the side of a building, any design elements that are not well suited to signage, reveal themselves. Uneven letterspacing, odd angles in the brand mark, and ranges of color tolerances all become glaringly obvious.
And if you don’t see the problem until the sign has actually been fabricated, you’ve lost opportunities to make refinements before significant dollars are spent. While creating prototypes add cost and time to the rebrand implementation, they can yield equal or greater savings by the end of the process. Here are the ways we guide clients to approach how to make smarter decisions and save costs through prototyping.
Strategically choose what to prototype
There is a broad range of sign types, from inexpensive interior wall decals to 10-foot exterior monuments. So, we advise marketing and design teams to look at their entire suite of signage and select the elements that make the most sense to prototype. We might determine that the logo might be difficult to reproduce in 3D, so we’ll focus our attention on modeling the logo. If color or materials are particularly important, we’ll test color fidelity across a variety of substrates or produce models in different materials.
If 12 locations require a specific, large outdoor sign, it might be worth prototyping to ensure that the design that is legible under different daylight conditions and nighttime conditions— prior to fabricating all 12 signs.
You can also prototype specific elements within a sign type. For example, you can fabricate a single channel letter with a removable face so you can explore different colors. For a ground sign, you might build just the front to verify the color and lighting.
Use prototypes to guide decision-making
During the rebrand implementation, we use prototypes to build agreement among stakeholders. It is common for executives to have difficulty translating concepts to 3D. This can lead to a significant disconnect between expectations and reality among key decision makers. By embedding prototyping into the design and approval process, you allow material and color selection at a point where those choices are easy to refine. Stakeholders will have greater confidence in outcomes when they’ve seen the actual granite, not just a thumbnail photo in an online catalog.
Create models for quality control
Even before we work with a brand team to solicit proposals from vendors, we nail down the sign’s “buildability” and then use the prototype for quality control and review. This is essential if your organization has hundreds of locations in multiple states or countries, and if you’re relying on multiple vendors for each region and type of sign. Your cost will increase quickly if the color has to be redone vendor by vendor, and location by location. Furthermore, a prototype can establish quality standards and technical specifications that can be used as benchmarks to ensure consistency across vendors and geography. You can eliminate subjectivity and reduce back-and-forth communication when you have a specific model and standard to be used as a control for vendors to work toward.
Repurpose prototyped elements
We’ll also look for opportunities to reuse the prototypes, or elements thereof, in the finished signage. With a ground sign, for example, we might construct the base and a single sign face to ensure that the color and lighting are right. We can then use the base as part of a final sign. The same can be done with other architectural elements and channel letters.
Cost and timing for prototyping
You should begin developing models right at the beginning of the implementation, as soon as the overarching sign concept is approved. Begin with brand standards and request drawings from the vendor; approving the specs and fabricating the prototype may take between four and eight weeks, depending on the project’s complexity and the vendor’s availability. And the prototype might surface additional questions or problems.
But this process can happen while other work is ongoing, such as launching the RFP process, gathering material samples, and designing the full sign suite. Prototyping doesn’t have to be a log jam. It can happen in parallel with other rebranding activities.
Yes, prototyping has a cost; however, it is far more cost-effective to iron out the details prior to manufacture than to try and repair mistakes in the field. In a rebrand implementation, all eyes are on ROI, so we have to be smart about allocating resources to prototyping and finding creative ways to test all of the concepts at critical decision points. In our experience, strategic prototyping can yield up to 25% cost savings over the full complement of signage in a rebrand.
Prototyping is one of our most valuable tools at your disposal when implementing a signage program — for managing expectations, controlling scope, and enabling fiscally responsible branding decisions. Let us show you how it can save you money and improve the brand consistency achieved for your rebranding initiative.