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The Psychology of Signage

Solid signage, both fixed and digital, can help draw members

Picture this. You’re heading down a hallway, desperately searching for an appointment destination, and you’re running a few minutes behind. If you see no one in sight, what do you count on to help find your way in time? Signage. When it’s cleverly, professionally, and thoughtfully crafted and positioned in a facility, signage can make all the difference in your perception of the building, as well as in the comfort and confidence you feel when you reach your destination.

Now take the analogy a step further, in a direction that’s particularly relevant for churches. Imagine how newcomers feel the first time they enter your parking lot, come through your doors, navigate your lobby and atrium areas, and attempt to hone in on an anticipated worship service. Are they new to the geographic area? Are they new to Christ? Are they open to meeting fresh-faced volunteers and shaking hands, or do they simply want to slip into a seat and anonymously absorb what’s around them?

Well thought-out signage should help fit the bill for every type of need. Let’s take a look at some of the components that make up excellent way-findingboth static and digital.

Conceptual Static Signage
When creating something meaningful, humans tend to extrapolate a premise or concept behind what they’re doing. This guiding notion, or concept, will help to bring forth a vision and ensure that all elements of a project are married to a central theme.

Excellent church facilities today are no exception, and neither is the art of signage, according to Joshua Durham, president of Lewisville, Texas-based Noggindoodle Inc. Noggindoodle’s mission is to design signs that minister to people, and the company caters specifically to the house of worship (HOW) market.

“We feel that signage can do much more than simply provide information we are only limited by our creativity,” Durham posits. Yet, he notes that a number of church facilities will develop signage as an afterthought in the building process.

The best signage can often be created when sign designers are brought into the planning process early. “It would be a shame for a [sign] designer to bring amazing ideas to the table that cannot be implemented because of inadequate bracing, electrical outlets, or other factors that could have been worked into the plans,” Durham explains.

When a church does bring on a sign designer, the basics of excellent signage are straightforward. According to experts such as Jason Reiffer, architectural designer with Grand Rapids, Michigan based Progressive AE, a good sign should be simple, legible, and to the point. In addition, “Placement must be strategic, anticipating way-finding needs within the building,” Reiffer states.

Cally Parkinson, director of communications at Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois concurs. She says way-finding was no afterthought in the grand scheme of Willow Creek’s design.

“Signage was a huge task [here]. We had a big communications campaign to help figure it out,” Parkinson states. And Parkinson says that church staff realized that newcomers, in particular, would benefit from the signage decisions they made and employed. “We know that newcomers typically make a decision within the first five minutes about whether or not they’ll come back. Things like smooth traffic flow, friendly greeters, and excellent signage are critical to making a positive impression in those first five minutes.”

For long-time churchgoers, too, Willow Creek’s staff finds that effective signage helps create a better traffic flow overall, “particularly in a large facility like Willow Creek,” Parkinson notes.

Durham says the first step to achieving good stationary signage, whether for a large church or for a small, is conceptual design. “It is extremely important for a church to have an overall concept and look first. At the very least, a design should take into account the architectural style and colors of the building,” he says.

Noggindoodle takes its signage design one step further for churches. “Our signs are alive with Biblical symbolism and filled with the Word of God,” Durham says. Examples include signage created for First Baptist Church of Dallas’ new Criswell Center.

An example of way-finding his firm created for the seven-story, downtown Criswell Center is signage for the church’s Heritage Chapel. Stained glass is woven with wood to mimic both the church’s overall architectural style and building materials, and to serve as deeper symbols. The stained glass is blue and white to represent the sky and to serve as a metaphor for God and the heavens. Wood is symbolic of Jesus’ death on the cross.

So how do signage companies come up with the looks that convey an individual church’s history, current ministry, and architectural style? Durham says his company uses this formula: “We interview the architects to find out their vision for the building and the specific design features and materials used. We then engage the church leaders.

“We want to know where the church has been and where it’s going. What is the make up of the congregation? What is the vision for the church? The heartbeat of the church will give life to the design and meaning to the building materials,” he adds.

When it comes to cost, Durham says signage price is based on three components: design, manufacture, and installation. While design is dependent on the size and scope of the project, along with the budget of the church, manufacturing costs can vary greatly and will sometimes include installation.

Digital Options
So where does today’s digital signage fit into the picture? According to Jill Miller, executive vice president of Digital Signage Group in Poulsbo, Washington, publisher of The Digital Signage Resource Directory and Digital Signage Quarterly Magazine, digital signage (DS) finds multiple applications in today’s churches.

“Some of the most common [applications] are interactive touch screens that can be used for way-finding within the facility, show a schedule of classes, presentations, or other types of events,” Miller states. Then when these interactive DS screens are inactive in the church environment, they usually display some type of lifestyle media that provides basic information about the church, the area, or TV broadcast happenings.

Durham says that an important consideration for churches to keep in mind when they employ digital signage is that bigger isn’t always better. And more high tech may not necessarily fit the bill.

“[Digital signage choices] depend on the church, their congregation, their vision, the atmosphere they are trying to create, and other factors,” Miller concurs. And Durham further explains, “One church may need a custom poster cabinet where upcoming events can be printed on posters and displayed. Another church may need a plasma TV where upcoming events scroll onto the screen.”

Where graphic design is integral in the creation of static signage, other factors come into play when digital signage will fill a need within a church atrium, for instance. As Miller explains, “Content and the intent of the use is the most critical piece of DS. DS is used in HOW for education, informing, entertaining, and engaging the viewer. Each of those areas has unique content nuances.”

For digital signage to be most effective, Reiffer shares this point of advice from the architectural angle: DS should be strategically placed to deliver the most effective use. Again, church staff should consider traffic flow and place DS where members can readily view and interact with the signage. “Digital signs are especially useful for [church] spaces with changing functions and events,” Reiffer adds.

Aside from Plasma and LCD TV screens, some new digital options exist. One option is IntelliMat floor displays, placed underfoot. Designed to lie in a walking person’s natural line of sight on the floor ahead, the slim mats use four 15-inch LCD screens to create a 30-inch diagonal display. IntelliMats are networkable, like other digital signs, and can play church-relevant multimedia content, video, Flash, MPEG 2 and 4, and other PC-generated material.

Another consideration is whether to go with LCD or Plasma displays. Plasma often provides a better image with a higher contrast ratio, but is susceptible to screen burn-in when static images are displayed often, as is the case with digital signage. LCD monitors have a lower contrast ratio, but are not subject to the problem of burn-in.

Another upcoming feature of digital signage that church staff may want to consider, according to Miller, is the use of directional sound. “This [feature] enables sound to only be heard in a specific area, so as not to distract outside the area.”

No matter what type of digital signage is chosen, the technology can be expensive. As Miller states, “Prices for deploying DS are directly related to the sophistication of the content management and distribution requirements. Prices range from $1,000 and up depending on the level of complexity.”

No matter what type of signage is employed digital or static in the church environment, today’s best signage will make a subconscious impact on service-goers. Churches, much like Starbucks, can be branded through visual design and signage in a way that creates both an overall feel and an expectation of excellence.

As Reiffer sums up, “Signs should look like they belong together. People will subconsciously relate signs together that share design elements [such as] colors, fonts, and logos.”

The Digital Signage Group
Digital signage distributor and publisher
(360)779-6470 www.thedigitalsignagegroup.com

IntelliMat Inc.
Provider of digital floor displays
(540)904-5670 www.intellimat.com

Noggindoodle Inc.
HOW signage designer
(214)762-4341 www.noggindoodle.com

Progressive AE
Architectural design
(616)361-2664 www.progressiveae.com

Religious Broadcast Design
Sanctuary design services for broadcast
(404)355-1415 www.religiousbroadcastdesign.com

Willow Creek Community Church
(847)765-5000 www.willowcreek.org

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