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The complete package

The complete package


Birmingham’s recently completed Grand Central project, which forms part of the  £600 million redevelopment programme for Birmingham’s New Street Station, provided design consultancy FRA with just the type of job that it most relishes. Val Hirst reports.

Whilst all wayfinding schemes offer their own unique challenges they also share a range of common issues too. The trick is to provide signage that is sufficiently sympathetic to the environment and architecture that it graces, whilst still remaining easily visible and dispensing just the right amount of regularly repeated information to ensure that users can navigate their way safely and efficiently.  But whilst some companies might struggle to master all of these inherent complexities, there is nothing that Shrewsbury-based design consultancy FRA, enjoys more than providing inspired wayfinding solutions for a range of clients that span the retail, leisure, education and public sectors.

First established by principal Fran Raybould, an interior designer by training, who has also gained valuable experience in many different design disciplines during her 30-year career, FRA now specialises in wayfinding, signage and placemaking and, as well as offering clients workable design solutions, it is also able to provide a full service offering, which can include everything from the initial design right through to the project management and monitoring of manufacture and installation.



Since its inception in 2009 the company hasgrown significantly with Fran now heading a five-strong team as Creative Director,and her husband Nick serving as Graphic Design Director.Jamie Trippier,who had previously consulted with Fran many times during the 11years he spent working as aDirector for some of the sign industry’s prominent players, joined FRA two years ago as its Managing Director, in a role where he has responsibility for technical specifications, project management and commercial operations. His wife Rachel is the Marketing Director and also looks after business development and PR and the team was further bolstered last April, following the appointment of Imogen Smith, who, since joining the company as a graduate designer,has become a key member of the team.

Fran acknowledges that wayfinding can be a complex discipline, especially now when traditional static signage is often complemented with the use of touchscreens,digital signage networks and animated advertising,but offers the view that the best outcome is achieved when all of these elements are properly considered at the outset and imaginatively used in tandem to deliver the most effective outcome.  In fact, she fervently recommends that nowadays, a wayfinding scheme should be complemented with a responsive website to achieve a holistic communication strategy.

She explains: “Nowadays, whenever we plan to go anywhere, our natural inclination is to use the internet to check such vital details as opening times and the provision of parking and other facilities, and, because all of this information can now be easily accessed via smart phones and tablets, even whilst on the move, a website actually provides a brilliant starting point and encourages all of the parties involved to consider exactly what they need from their wayfinding scheme.”

By way of illustration, Fran provides me with a whistle-stop tour of some of FRA’s recently completed projects, together with many of those that are still underway. For example, FRA is currently working on a scheme for Rushden Lakes, an ambitious development that will eventually combine a retail park with a cinema and restaurant complex,together with a series of lakeside activities and woodland walks in the surrounding Northamptonshire SSSI (site of special scientific interest)

Fran elaborates: “The aim at Rushden Lakes is to provide visitors with the opportunity to enjoy a full days’ entertainment, where they can shop, eat, walk, cycle and/or catch a movie. The website wlll initially present all of these attractions, which will be gradually reinforced by the site signage. Of course, the sign package will also have to include a strong directional element, but the signs all have to be aesthetically appealing too and reflect the primary purpose of each of the different areas.  For instance,the signs in the retail park will need to be bold, dynamic and ‘on brand’ in order to complement all of the shop signage around them, whereas the signs that direct visitors around the nature trails will require a much more sensitive treatment, in keeping with the natural environment.However, in each case, the brand design style first established on the project’s ’website, together with the brand commercialision will be replicated throughout all of the different forms of signage so that they will all be recognisably part of the same familyto provide a cohesive whole.”

JFrenchMapTotemWith refreshing candour, Fran agrees that achieving this degree of synchronicity can sometimes prove to be a monumental task, but adds that there is no more satisfying moment than when it all comes together.  She says: “One of the biggest challenges is trying to meet the requirements of all of the various stakeholders, especially in large developments, where everyone wants their name and logo to appear on as much of the signage as possible.  Sometimes though, we have to be very firm indeed and point out that if the signs become too over-embellished, the directional or informational element will be lost, as all visitors will see is a confusing blur of text and colour.  Happily, once we point this out most companies realise that if the signage doesn’t work on a practical level then it’s to the overall detriment of the complex as a whole.”

Jamie Trippier adds that in addition to all of the above, the final scheme also has to be designed to accommodate the special needs of less able visitors, plus any future variations. He observes “Visitors have to be able to trust the information that’s given and so we have to ensure that all of the signs can be refreshed whenever necessary, in line with changing tenancies or the addition of new facilities, and that this can be done in the most cost effective way possible and with the minimum of disruption.”

Musing on the fact that increasingly, a wayfinding package can also be creatively used to alert visitors to other places of interest within any given locality, Fran references another scheme that FRA has recently worked on, namely Telford’s Southwater, a pedestrianised leisure and convention quarter, which includes a new hotel, bars, restaurants, cinema, shops and a large urban lake, all of which blend seamlessly with the town’s existing shopping centre, town park and The International Centre, a conference and exhibition complex.

She reports: “This case and others like it, could provide an excellent blueprint for other local authorities who are perhaps working with limited budgets but who also want to secure a greater degree of prosperity for everyone working and living within their area.  In Telford, both the developer and the local Council are very keen to encourage the attendees of events held at the International Centre to extend their stay in the town so that they can fully appreciate all of the delights it has to offer, such as its proximity to neighbouring Ironbridge, which has been designated a UNESCO world heritage site.  Thus, the wayfinding scheme is designed to highlight this as well as other local events and attractions.”

JFrenchTotemFRA’s most recently completed wayfinding project, and one that ably demonstrates its holistic approach,is Grand Central Birmingham, a high profile retail centre, which is anchored by the biggest John Lewis department store outside of London,and forms part of the £600 million investment in the redevelopment of Birmingham’s New Street Station.

Fran says: “We used a combination of static signs, digital ‘centre voice’screens and touch screens, together with web and mobile methods of delivery, to drive footfall to Grand Central while also providing a portal to showcase all that Birmingham has to offer.”

As illustrated here, it stands as testament to FRA’s expertise, but although it often provides precisely this high-level consultancy service, Fran and Jamie, perfectionists both, feel that the company delivers its best work when it can also oversee the complete manufacturing and installation process and thus guarantee the highest level of quality throughout.

Jamie says: “We use a regular pool of tried and trusted contractors and supervise every aspect of the process so that we can ensure that what appears on the original visuals is fully realised down to the last tiny detail.”

Both agree though, that if the company continues to expand its project portfolio at its current meteoric rate  – business has quadrupled over the past two years – it will urgently need to recruit more staff.

Currently it is seeking both brand savvy designers with previous web and/or wayfinding experience and people with experience of sign design and manufacture who want an opportunity to further enhance their project management skills.

The rewards on offer will include working in FRA’s bright and airy offices in the centre of historic Shrewsbury and the chance to relocate to the beautiful and comparatively affordable Shropshire countryside. More importantly, new recruits will also have the opportunity to join a young and extremely enthusiastic team that is determined to demonstrate, through example, that wayfinding is really the most diverse and dynamic of all of the signmaking disciplines.

Don’t all apply at once!

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