"…so, sign making is a full time job?"
Stuart Dodds is Merson Group’s Business Development Director and is responsible for managing all of our projects in the aviation, rail and highway sectors. Today he discusses wayfinding in the rail environment and looks back at a conversation he had with a new flat mate over twenty years ago.

"…so, sign making is a full time job?"

Was the question posed to me twenty years ago by Sheila - one of my then new flat mates. Until that point, Sheila had not really put much thought into how and why signs are where they are. Maybe they were just knocked up in somebody’s garden hut before being thrown up on the wall by an odd-job-man?

I’ve never forgotten being asked this because very often within our business I still experience similar questions. In the vast majority of situations, wayfinding signs are bespoke - there are rarely two the same. So when asked, “Can you not just give me the sign I need off your shelf?’’ the answer is that unfortunately we don’t have a shelf large enough to stock all the options!

Both of these questions demonstrate that there can be a significant lack of signage understanding; not only by those not connected to the industry (which is fine) but also those who are charged with the movement of people around some of the UK’s largest wayfinding environments. Making clients understand the benefits of good wayfinding planning and well-made products can be a bit of a challenge at times.

In rail, the passenger charter does not have specific questions that relate to wayfinding or signage. Maybe it should; the Airports equivalent does, however that’s a debate for another time. Never the less there are a couple of categories which signage must influence, these being ‘Overall environment’ and ‘Upkeep / Repair of stations buildings’. How well will a customer rate the scores in these areas if they can’t locate the station toilets?

Not only is sign making a full time job but wayfinding planning and sign construction design are too. I wonder what Sheila would have thought of that?

We all understand that you need good signing to get around Bluewater Shopping Centre or Heathrow Airport so, considering that they handle the same number of customers, why would a rail station be any different? In many ways rail station wayfinding can be very complicated with retail, toilets, platforms, excess tickets, alternative wheelchair access requirements, onward travel and much more all needing to be considered. This information cannot be assembled on a whim and all needs to be part of a cohesive wayfinding strategy followed by planning and scheduling.

At the moment a number of the Network Rail Stations are having significant alterations carried out to their retailing to make positive benefits on the concourses. When these new concourse spaces are realised it’s going to be very important that the wayfinding planning has been implemented correctly to ensure that the passenger experience is maximised.

What use is it installing new signs into a building if they are poorly specified? This is where the Sign Construction Design Team comes into play. Quite often a bit of knowledge and experience detailing the materials and construction of the signage will save a TOC or NR significant sums in maintenance and add years of life to the product. Rail Franchises last significant periods of time so it’s important to ensure that the signage being installed is efficient to maintain and the best that it can be for the budget available.

We do our best to educate clients and help them understand what good passenger wayfinding is, how the product can best be fabricated and how that pays back tenfold with positive passenger experiences and reduced maintenance bills. We believe that those who take on board our comments are better off than those who maybe choose not to, but I guess you’d expect me to say that…

Yes Sheila, sign making IS a full time job.