Signage for Multifamily Property Developments

Multifamily marketing agency Bigeye’s podcast this week focuses on property signage and the value of a cohesive strategy from lease up to resident engagement. 

IN CLEAR FOCUS this week: Multifamily marketing agency Bigeye’s podcast explores the design and fabrication of signage for multifamily and mixed-use developments. From lease-up to resident engagement, expert Steven Hauck of Poblocki Sign Co explains the importance of pre-planning and identifying branding and wayfinding signage needs early on. Steve explains the permitting process, provides “dos” and “don’ts” for visual design and discusses new opportunities afforded by digital solutions.

In Clear Focus: Signage for Multifamily Property Developments

In Clear Focus this week: Multifamily marketing agency Bigeye’s podcast explores the design and fabrication of signage for multifamily and mixed-use developments. From lease-up to resident engagement, expert Steven Hauck of Poblocki Sign Co explains the importance of pre-planning and identifying branding and wayfinding signage needs early on.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising, produced weekly by Bigeye. Hello, I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, VP of Insights at Bigeye. An audience-focused, creative-driven, full-service advertising agency, we’re based in Orlando, Florida, but serve clients across the United States and beyond. Thank you for joining us. Bigeye is fortunate to serve a number of clients who develop and manage multifamily properties, student housing, and senior living communities. Influencing the success of any new or rebranded development is the strategic use of signage. Branding and directional signs need to be both visually impactful and easy to understand for residents and visitors alike. Modern multifamily apartments and student housing often have multiple buildings. Signage design can tie together amenities across several blocks, giving properties a cohesive look and feel and aid navigation.To discuss practical and logistical considerations for property signage, I’m joined in the studio today by Steven Hauck, who is Vice President of Business Development with Poblocki Sign Company. Welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS, Steve!

Steven Hauck: Thank you, Adrian. Thank you for having me.

Adrian Tennant: So first, Steve, could you tell us something about your background in signage?

Steven Hauck: Absolutely. I started in the sign business in the mid-Nineties. Moved to Orlando with my girlfriend. She was going to UCF and I started at Valencia doing web and graphic design and quickly learned I was actually out-learning my teacher ’cause he was learning the class the night before and teaching it. So I started my own business then and got into the graphics side. Realized that coding wasn’t for me and liked the graphics and got into doing sign graphics and got a job as a designer. And then from there I got into the project management side and for the last 26 years, worked every position from install to design to sales and in the last 10 years actually had the fastest-growing sign company in Central Florida. And just recently, we went through a merger acquisition with Poblocki Sign Company, based out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with a 95-year history in the industry, it was a family-owned company so it was a perfect match for us ’cause they specialize in custom signage and do a lot of work with developers.

Adrian Tennant: Okay. So in what ways can signage influence the success of new multifamily property developments?

Steven Hauck: Well, signage is your curb appeal. It’s the first impression sometimes that visitors will have. So you want to have that lasting impression with them. Your wayfinding signage is highly important for a complex property because you don’t want visitors to get lost. So you want them to have that good feeling and positive feeling when visiting sites and that’s a great opportunity to also showcase the property amenities, social gathering areas, to give the visitors the sense that, “This is where I want to be,” “This is where I want to live,” or “This is where I want to visit.”

Adrian Tennant: So I mentioned in my intro, Steve, that branding and directional signage both need to be visually impactful and easy to understand for residents and visitors. Tell me about some of the tricks we can use to make sure that all visitors have a cohesive brand experience.

Steven Hauck: It’s important to maintain the brand through all the signage, but I also have seen where the brand can overpower the signage and make it less effective. So I think having your impact from the start, your curb appeal, which is your exterior signage, is the main full brand. And then as you enter the property, sometimes it’s hard to always incorporate the full brand in the signage, but have elements of the brand that tie it all in together. And I think if you can find that perfect balance, it has a great flow to it. And especially with wayfinding, ’cause wayfinding is highly important on complex properties. You want to have people to feel comfortable navigating the property and not feel lost. I think once you have issues of people not knowing where they’re at, not knowing where they’re going, it starts to create a negative feeling about the visit. So you want to make sure you have really good wayfinding so people can find their way to the amenities, to where they’re going, to visit friends or family. And it’s a good way to also showcase your property and what your property has to offer. I think sometimes the amenities are overlooked as far as on the branding to show, “Hey, this is what we have to offer.” It kind of gives people that feeling that, “Wow, I would love to live here. ‘Cause I have all this stuff that I can experience if I lived here as well.” So I think maintaining the brand through all of that helps tie it all in together. And it also helps your property stand out, especially if someone’s looking for a new place to live, they might remember the branding because it looked so good and it made them feel good and gave them that good feeling as opposed to the last property looked at, didn’t have that. And it helps kinda, I think, keep that in their mind as they’re exploring and touring properties.

Adrian Tennant: There are obviously some differences between permanent signage and that which is intended to be temporary. How does that temporary signage typically evolve as communities are being constructed?

Steven Hauck: Well, temporary signage is made with different materials so we’re using plastics or sometimes wood or just final decals. A lot of times with multifamily developments, we have to put temporary signage in for certain code compliance to identify doors and locations before the permanent signage is ready. And it’s also a good marketing piece as well. A lot of multifamily developments will have a construction fence up. So that’s a perfect opportunity to put branding around the property to build awareness before the property is actually available.

Adrian Tennant: Typically, what’s your role in the planning, design, and installation of property signage?

Steven Hauck: So I’m usually the first contact. So my role is typically to gather as much information as possible. So that way I can bring back as much information as I can to my team. So that way they start the process for usually the due diligence. Our first step is to always go through the code compliance and look at the wayfinding system to start to build the traffic patterns for pedestrians and vehicular as well as to look at the municipality where the project is located to see what logistical challenges they will have. Every municipality is different. So that timeline for permitting is controlled by them. And so we want to make sure that we get projects in the permitting for the right time to make sure that we can hit the deadlines and goals of the development.

Adrian Tennant: So different types of signage have different permitting rules?

Steven Hauck: They do. And every municipality has their own set of rules and some municipalities have multiple sets of rules for different overlay districts, so that can sometimes create major logistical challenges.

Adrian Tennant: How do you assess the number of signs that a property requires?

Steven Hauck: Typically what we do is once the drawings are at a 95 percent completion level, we’ll have our programmer come in and review the sitemaps and the location plans and the floor plans. And they identify every single location that their sign will be: interior, exterior, traffic patterns for pedestrians and vehicular, and they build a message schedule. So at the end, we will have a location plan that matches a message schedule that shows what the sign type is and the message on the sign for the entire property.

Adrian Tennant: What are some of the logistical issues that you have to consider for signage designed for multifamily developments?

Steven Hauck: Most of that has to do with compliance. So for the interior signs, making sure that every door is marked and is marked properly, and the exterior signage goes back to the rules and regulations set by the municipality. So not all municipalities have the same rules. Some don’t allow high rise signs, some don’t allow illuminated signs. Some only have very minimal square footage allowances for residential where some municipalities are, I would say, more gracious on what they allow.

Adrian Tennant: What are the different categories of signage for property development?

Steven Hauck: Property development has a large sign family. So your interior signs, you have your regulatory signs, your ADA signs for door identification, wayfinding. You can have information kiosks, reception branding opportunities, as well as wall wraps, wall murals, your amenities’ rules, your amenity identification signs, and on your exterior, you have your monument signs, wall signs, your vehicular wayfinding signs, your parking, which is your DOT-style signs. That’s about it. 

Adrian Tennant: Just help me understand – you referred to a monument sign. What does that mean?

Steven Hauck: So a monument is a standalone ground sign. Typically that would be at the entry point or entry points of multifamily development. And then your wall signs would be something that would be identified on the wall which is not allowed in every municipality. So when you get a municipality that allows those, we’d like to capitalize on that ’cause that’s certainly a great way to get branding out there

Adrian Tennant: Now, depending on the scope of the project, signage needs may go beyond the branding and obviously, as you’ve described, incorporate onsite wayfinding to help visitors and residents navigate that physical space, especially if it’s a larger development. How early in the process are wayfinding requirements typically identified? Is it at that same drawing stage?

Steven Hauck: Exactly. I think that’s something that we like to get in the earlier the better. So when the initial meetings with our architect or your contractors and your agencies are kicking off, that’s a great time to bring us in because we want to be able to identify possible branding challenges in the design. Some logos and designs look great on paper, but when you try to build it in the three-dimensional world, they don’t always work out. So the earlier we can get in there and help contribute to those early design stages, the better.

Adrian Tennant: Now do timeframes for fabricating branding signage typically run in parallel with wayfinding signage?

Steven Hauck: Yeah. So all signs have their own kind of timeline. With Poblocki, our interior facility is in North Carolina. So that’s where 95 percent of all our interior signs are made. And the exterior signage, it’s either fabricated in Milwaukee or here in Florida at our facility, which obviously has a much longer lead time. Interior signs have compliance, but it is a compliance market we have to hit by the end of the job, whereas exterior signs, we have to go through permitting. So we have to prove compliance at the beginning stages to show the sizes meet the local ordinances. But both parts into your next year, both travel their own timelines, and we can move those around to make sure we hit the goals and needs of the clients.

Adrian Tennant: Steve, ideally how early in the process should a creative agency, like Bigeye, be involved in designing signage?

Steven Hauck: We’re ready for design assistance from the very beginning. So understanding the challenges of sign manufacturing gives us the ability to spot challenges in brand development early. So some logos, with the design, certainly it helps to have us there in the beginning. So we can point out a feature of the logo or something to say, “Hey, that’s going to be a difficult feature to produce in your branding.” So that way we can help kind of control some of that when it comes to the signage standpoint or maybe there’s an alternative brand standard for the signage compared to the other branding. So we can kind of help with that in the beginning.

Adrian Tennant: And in what kinds of ways can agencies partner most effectively with signage experts, such as yourself?

Steven Hauck: We’ve created successful relationships with design agencies all over the East coast of the United States. And we like to consider ourselves your signage partner when it comes to signage and wayfinding. So we’ve worked directly with the architects, the builders, we come in as your code experts to make sure that the project stays on task with compliance and code and we’ll meet the regulations of the local municipalities.

Adrian Tennant: Okay. Now are there certain types of materials that work best in all environments, or do you typically tailor fabrication recommendations based on each location’s local weather or average temperatures?

Steven Hauck: That’s a great question. I think aluminum is the best product all around for signage. It works great indoors outdoors. It’s lightweight, it holds up to the elements well, so that’s typically our go-to product. Obviously the price point of that’s usually sometimes higher. We also use lots of acrylics in photopolymers for interior signage. There’s PVC and foam, which are typically your temporary signage or at a low cost point. So it’s not something we would ever use in a permanent application. When it comes to colors, I certainly look at the fact that Florida has the sun and it is super bright here. And it’s funny, you will see on some signs, the east side of the sign looks perfectly fine and you look at the west side of the sign and it’s completely faded. The yellows and reds get beat up in the sun. So sometimes we try and keep those colors out of large exterior signs, just because of the impact from the sun.

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after this message.

Lauren Fore: Hi, I’m Lauren Fore on Bigeye’s operations team. Property development and management present their own unique sets of challenges. Growing a powerful, lasting brand takes industry expertise, strategy, and insight. Bigeye’s portfolio of property clients reflects our award-winning, extensive experience in all aspects of creative marketing – for multifamily and mixed-use developments as well as student housing, senior living, and real estate. To see case studies and learn more about Bigeye’s creative and media solutions tailored to property development and management, please visit BigeyeProperties.com.

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. We’re talking to Steven Hauck from Poblocki Sign Company about signage design and fabrication for property developments. Signage that appears a certain way during the daytime can be lit to look quite different at night. What practical issues should your agency partners consider when designing signage to be illuminated?

Steven Hauck: I think the most important question is, is when’s the most important visibility of the sign? Is it nighttime or daytime? That’s probably a good way to start. Obviously, your retail and restaurant spaces – the nighttime visibility is important. I think for family development projects the daytime is probably the most important. And then you also have to factor in that some municipalities don’t even allow illuminated signage for mixed use development. So the external illumination for signs to light up, shine up on a monument, is sometimes the only lighting you’re allowed to do.

Adrian Tennant: What are some “do’s” and “don’ts” for visual designers when it comes to selecting typefaces and colors in signage?

Steven Hauck: Well, thin font strokes are a challenge especially if you are working with illuminated signage to get LEDs inside of letters and some of the thinner strokes, which we’ve noticed branding has trended that way for a little while. I think it’s kind of trending back the other direction a little bit sometimes. And also with vehicular traffic and the speed of the traffic, thin fonts are difficult to read. So I think we take all those into consideration when looking at logo and brand design to make sure it would not have those challenges. For colors, there’s certainly compliance regulations for the interior signage and ADA. It has to have a contrast with the background. The ADA requirements do require certain contrasts of light and dark. They’re not necessarily policing it. It’s more implied so it’s one of those really hard targets to hit because the rules aren’t really clear. There’s a lot of interpretation open to that.

Adrian Tennant: We’ve been referring to ADA – that is of course the Americans With Disabilities Act. Steve, what are some of the most interesting property signage projects you’ve worked on?

Steven Hauck: Personally, my favorite sign that we did was for NASA. And I actually got to be there when they brought the Space Shuttle by the sign and the wing of the Space Shuttle just cleared the top of the sign by a couple feet. In fact, at one point when they knew this was going to happen, they told us to stop production until their engineers could confirm the wing was going to clear the sign and then they allowed us to continue. They did have to lay down all the streetlights to bring the Space Shuttle Atlantis through this business park on its way to the Kennedy Space Center where its final resting place is in the Visitor Complex. My plan was to get out there super early to have pictures of my sign with the Space Shuttle going by it. But by the time I got out there, the Space Shuttle was already in its parking spot. But it is still an amazing experience.

Adrian Tennant: Absolutely, on so many levels. Wow, truly iconic.

Steven Hauck: Absolutely. Another project just recently we did was for Lakewood Ranch, which is over in the Bradenton Sarasota area. We got to work on a full mixed development that has retail and multifamily in it. And the multifamily apartments’ called The Greens. So they have a very natural feel to it. And all the interior signage we got to use real pecky cypress with a green tactile braille panel over it. It was great to be able to use a natural product and it fit with their theme perfectly.

Adrian Tennant: You also work on signage projects for clients in different verticals. What similarities or differences, if any, are there between your approach to property developments and say, quick service restaurants?

Steven Hauck: Well, every project starts out the same way: understanding your client’s needs and identifying the challenges upfront: timing, location, municipality access. And then from there, it all changes considerably from the planning aspect. You know, retail signs usually have a shorter timeline to get in and out, whereas your larger development signs have much more time for planning. The retail signs also are a one-off location. So sometimes we’re working with a branding, it was already set in place and you know, if it’s a single location, sometimes we can work to tweak the design of the brand a little bit just for that location. Whereas some of the larger developments and larger brands, maintaining those brand standards is highly important. And so we’ll have to work through those challenges, uh, to maintain the brand at that time.

Adrian Tennant: What opportunities with signage design do clients often overlook?

Steven Hauck: I think the logistical challenges with permitting are overlooked the most, and the timing it takes to sometimes get a signage project approved, with a local municipality. There’s nothing worse than designing something that your client loves. It meets the budget and you go to permit it and then the city or County comes back and their interpretation of the code is different and they say, “You can’t have it.” So that’s kind of heartbreaking to do sometimes. So that due diligence upfront is highly important. There’s all kinds of situations we’ve run into. Like even the plan development, which is the first step of any new development that goes on record with the city or County, will sometimes have language in it that controls the signage. But sometimes the interpretation of it can be misleading. Like we just had one where the PD said no high rise signage. And the developer came up from Miami and he was putting in a five-story apartment building on his development. So he didn’t think anything of it because in high rise signage in South Florida is 10 stories or more. Well, in the city of Orlando, high rise signage is just anything above 30 feet. So he planned to put a sign at the top of his building and in his PD saw no high rise signage, and wasn’t concerned with it until we went to permit.

Adrian Tennant: So I notice a lot of multifamily properties when they’re launching use feather banners outside so there’s some kind of movement from the wind. Is that a good idea longer-term, or is it one of those very difficult things to find fabrics that will survive over a long period?

Steven Hauck: Typically, those are in the temporary signs category. They’re at a low cost point. So it’s something that can be refreshed or updated along the way. A lot of municipalities will only allow them to be up for a certain time as well. But most municipalities don’t have someone policing it so basically, developers will keep those up as long as they can until they are pretty much told they have to come down because I believe that they are a great attention-grabber for traffic. ‘Cause obviously the movement is something that draws people’s attention. So I think they’re pretty effective, especially for the cost point.

Adrian Tennant: How do you see signage evolving in the next few years? 

Steven Hauck: I’m a big fan of technology and about 12 years ago is when LEDs really completely changed our industry. The digital signage is actually becoming more effective and cost less. So I think you’re going to see that incorporated into more signage now than you have before, just because the price points are starting to come down. There’s lots of really unique digital signage out there for retail. That’s some of it’s a little scary. I’ve seen some stuff at our conventions where retail signs will actually have built in facial recognition software that can tell the age and gender of the people viewing the sign and it can change the message according to the age and gender of the person looking at it. So that’s kind of spooky at the same time, but I think the technology and the information kiosks we’re seeing a lot more requests for those. And the interactivity of some of these signs, I think that’s going to be a way of the future where you can walk up to signage and interact with it and get information faster. Here at Poblocki, one of the things we’re doing, we’re working with RFID chips and putting those into ADA signs. So that way the visually impaired can actually walk up with their cell phone wave in front of the sign and listen to a recorded message to help guide them to their location as opposed to having to read braille.

Adrian Tennant: Excellent. Steve, if listeners are interested in your organization, the services you offer, or want to see examples of signage, what’s the best way for them to learn more?

Steven Hauck: We’re on all the social media platforms, but I think Instagram is probably one of the best because we’re constantly posting pictures there, not only of projects we’re working on, but just of people in our organization. Since we have offices in four or five different States, it’s a great way for our team to always stay connected. Our website’s a great resource as well – we have drone footage of completed projects as well as testimonials from clients and you can see a lot of the projects we’ve worked on. And, we’d like to consider ourselves the sign company that people call when other sign companies say “we can’t do it.” So we have a lot of high difficulty, high challenging projects that we’re able to pull off which makes a great showcase for our company.

Adrian Tennant: Great! And of course we’ll include links to those on our website too. Steve, thank you very much for being on, IN CLEAR FOCUS.

Steven Hauck: Thank you for having me.

Adrian Tennant: My thanks to our guest this week, Steven Hauck, Vice President of Business Development with Poblocki Sign Company. You can find a transcript of our conversation along with links to resources on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at bigeyeagency.com under “Insights.” Just click on the button marked “Podcast.” To ensure you don’t miss an episode, please consider subscribing to the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or your favorite podcast player. And if you like the show, please tell a friend! If you have an Amazon Echo device, you can use the IN CLEAR FOCUS skill to add the podcast to your Flash Briefing. If you’d like to see more of Bigeye’s work for multifamily, student housing, senior living communities, and real estate, please check out our dedicated website at BigeyeProperties.com. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next time, goodbye.

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