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Signage solutions

Published:  14 December, 2006

Signage used and designed effectively can have a major impact on shoppers' movements and their overall enjoyment of a shopping experience.

Whether it be directional signage or digital signage, the opportunity is open to shopping centre managers to influence shopping patterns through interaction, brand advertising or wayfinding solutions.

Air Design believes that getting a signage scheme right involves taking the brand and putting it into its environment through 'environmental graphic design', or EGD.

At the Pavilions in Birmingham, Air Design started with the brand and designed the whole signage scheme from that. Managing director Alan Robertson says: "You have to get the brand right because everything comes from that. We decided that the brand would always change colour and so the signage on the front of the scheme has LED lights that keep changing colour too. The scale of change is very dramatic and eye-catching."

Robertson says it's important to understand what the centre owner is trying to do with the retail mix and ultimately the brand. "It must be about the consumers' experience," he says.

"When we talk about EGD it's more than just wayfinding. Obviously, people have to be able to find their way around, and most shopping centres manage that to a varying degree of success. However, what they're starting to do now is answer the promise being promoted by the marketeers. When you arrive at the centre the promise is reinforced by the signage.

"Wayfinding penetration is so important. There may a large number of hidden areas in a shopping centre and we want to drive people into those areas; good signing will help with that. If something is hidden around the corner you need to ensure people know about it and go there."

Giving a name to malls that are under-frequented can also give them a better identity and encourage people to wander down and take a look, as can putting something at the end of a mall to attract shoppers' attention.

"If, by improving your signage, you make the space work better, this in turn influences your customers. If they can find their way around without difficulty in an attractive environment, then they're more likely to come back and to tell other people. So successful signing should mean greater spend and an increased footfall."

Digital signage is making a huge impact on the shopping centre industry, with screens advertising goods and services as well as providing information. But while these screens are now a common sight along the malls, getting the content right is paramount if this stype of signage is to be a success.

Electrosonic's Kevin Murphy believes it is the 'wow' factor that is more important than the revenue generated. He points to Dubai as a city that's all about making a shopping centre a destination. "So far, no one in the UK has been brave enough to do 'wow'," says Murphy. "You have to be happy to write off your money as part of the atmosphere; it's a part of the service."

Despite running a digital signage company, Murphy admits he's a sceptic regarding the technology. He believes that, in general, the technology only works if the screens tell the customers something they want to know. He also believes that unless you're cynical about the product, mistakes will be made.

"You really have to look at each application and work it out. If you're walking around a shopping centre, you're not looking for screens; so, does the screen help you buy something you are looking for, or does it catch your attention to make you stop and watch, whatever it says?"

Murphy also points to the fact that content can be varied from screen to screen, appealing to those people most likely to be in a particular part of a centre. Interaction is also possible: Electrosonic use video jockeys whose job it is to change the content depending on who they can see standing close by.

"This approach works particularly well in an atrium," adds Murphy. "If people are waiting around, why not grab their attention? And once you've got their attention, you can feed them all sorts of information."

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=== Roll up for the Digital Showcase ===

The growing use of digital screen technology has prompted the launch of a brand new event called The Digital Signage Showcase.

The event, which has been launched by Faversham House Group, will take place alongside Sign UK and Digital Expo from 1-3 May 2007 at the NEC. It will feature supplers of LCD, LED and plasma screens, video walls, presentation graphics services, interactive boards, control design and management companies, programming and technology specialists, and installation and service providers. Visitors will also be able to attend free seminars and technical workshops.

Catherine Iredale, FHG exhibitions director, says: "We've recently undertaken a major piece of industry market research, and the findings have shown that this area of the market is set to grow rapidly over the next few years. We have, therefore, created the Showcase to provide visitors from right across the visual communications spectrum with a national forum dedicated to this fast growing sector of the market."