Signgeist 6: Public Images, Commonplace and Crafted

In a world of signs, first impressions matter.

First impressions are crucial. Just ask any father when his daughter brings home the new boyfriend for the first time. Or when you’re trying to pick a restaurant from sight only in a foreign country.

First impressions are part of what Calori & Vanden-Eynden (C&VE) refers to as “public image,” comprised of the ideas, perceptions, and opinions that the public has about a person, place, or even an organization. While some public images are carefully crafted through conscious effort and constant reminders, e.g. Disneyland, others are the result of serendipity and circumstance. In any case, public image is, in essence, the same thing as a brand.

For many years, we have published a popular series of “Public Images” postcards that we send to clients, colleagues, and interested others (some of whom now consider them to be collectors’ items). These have nothing to do with the Environmental Graphic Design (EGD) work we do for our clients, but, in their own way, they make the same point: first impressions count. The photos on the cards reflect public images in the world around us—vernacular signs we see every day that, whether we know it or not, prompt us to form an opinion. Here are some of our favorites.

Probably from the 1960s, this sign captures the personality of the area. Alluvial City, Louisiana

Courtesy Linda Eklund

A simple modification of an existing sign changes meaning. Washington, DC

Courtesy Calori & Vanden-Eynden

A visual translation of “Please Curb Your Dog.” Belfort, France

Courtesy Calori & Vanden-Eynden

When language gets in the way of the message: a classic double negative. Miami Beach, Florida

Courtesy Calori & Vanden-Eynden

Hooked already? Check out the entire collection on our website.

The flip side of this vernacular public image discussion involves making our clients look great to the outside world, promoting them or their products and services through designs that embody just as much personality as those vernacular signs. These are two key examples from partnerships with Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects.

Light and movement activate the tower’s main sign to convey a public image that is unique and distinguished.

Courtesy Tim Nolan

Singapore’s Ocean Financial Center is located in the city’s central business district. To help distinguish this tower from the giants that surround it, we took advantage of the street level wall and installed letters that change color and sparkle as pedestrians and vehicles pass by. We used static materials to achieve a dynamic appearance that projects an image of relaxed playfulness within the button-downed world of banking and finance.

Positioning signs in landscape features reduces corporate sterility and provides a softer and more welcoming public image.

Courtesy Tom Crane

For our Cira Centre project, a linchpin of development for West Philadelphia, we wanted to create a signature building identification sign that also provided an opportunity to list key tenants. Our solution conveys a crisp and clean public image that speaks to the strong angular qualities of the building’s architecture and its extensive use of glass. The large glass blades and softly illuminated letterforms combine to make a bold statement that welcomes and does not overwhelm.

Both projects succeed in reinforcing the positive perception that the public has of the quality and prestige of the clients’ properties, products, and services.

Our perceptions, opinions, and ideas about a place are real and important. It is crucial to get it right the first time. Undoing a poor public image can be time consuming and expensive (think politicians and oil companies). So, when the opportunity comes your way to impact a first impression, take a moment and consider: “If I were experiencing this (place, thing, person) for the first time, what would I think?”

What public image will you leave behind?

David Vanden-Eynden, AIGA, FSEGD, and his partner Chris Calori, AIGA, FSEGD, lead

Calori & Vanden-Eynden (C&VE), an internationally recognized, New York-based design firm specializing in the planning and design of signage, wayfinding, branded environments, identity, and user navigation systems. Chris literally wrote the book on the subject—Signage and Wayfinding Design: A Complete Guide to Creating Environmental Graphic Design Systems—which was recently published in Chinese and will be issued in a second English edition in 2015.

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