Sign & Digital Graphics

April '19

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80 • April 2019 • S I G N & D I G I T A L G R A P H I C S This month's interview is with Charles Kelly Jr., president of Clarke Systems. Clarke Systems has been operating for over 35 years. What have been the biggest changes to the architectural signage world over that time? Graphically speaking, the change has been astronomical. In the early 1980's, signs were being created by a highly skilled lettering art- ist and a paintbrush. In 1984, Gerber introduced the first auto letter cutting machine. In fact, we still have on of these Gerbers in-house (for sentimental pur- poses). In 1998, graphics evolved ten-fold with the implementation of digital printing. Regarding the signs themselves, Vista designed and released one of the very first flat modular sign systems in the early 2000's and paved the way for signage with paper inserts. The inserts allow for changeability without having to replace the entire sign. Another enormous change in the last 35 years is that of internet sales and e-commerce. While Clarke Systems does not sell online, there are certainly niche sign makers who are selling non-custom, regulatory type signs via the internet. Lastly, the most recent change is the development of 3D printing. In fact, Clarke Systems has recently added a Direct Color System to our family of machines and we have started manufacturing signs using this printing method. There are projects where this method is a great fit and alleviates the many processes associated with traditional sign making including raster hand braille bead insertion. As a wholesaler, what are some of the most common problems you are helping your clients overcome? One of the most common problems we help our clients over- come is expansion of their back shop. By outsourcing to a wholesaler like Clarke Systems, they can take on larger sign projects they would not be able to produce in-house. Additionally, our clients are often asked to bid on large wayfinding projects and unfortunately due to lack of experience, they turn the projects away. Clarke Systems has an expert in-house wayfinding team experienced in reviewing spec programs, reading floor plans, and creating message schedules. Outsourcing a large project of this kind alleviates the smaller shop from having to purchase costly capital equipment, especially with today's ever-changing technology. This allows the smaller shop to buy the wholesale sign products and resell it as their own without having to produce it themselves. When someone wants an interior sign, what is the substrate you recommend using the most and why? This is not a one size fits all answer. There are a lot of determining factors that lead up to the type of substrate we recommend most, with certainly the biggest factors being shape, size and function. The two most common types of substrates are ADA compliant matte acrylic and aluminum extrusions. In a recent project, we combined the acrylic and aluminum extrusions in signage with several layers. It was an extraordinary example of how complicated and intricate signage systems can become. The overarching component of all recommendations is to first determine how the signs will coordinate with the facility's interior design, style and furniture. How much of your time is spent keeping up on regulatory issues regarding the ADA? In all honesty, now that the ADA laws have been in place for several years, there is not much in our day-to-day operations relative to issues with the ADA. The first law, The Americans with Disabilities Act, was signed in 1990 with a significant overhaul related to the sig- nage industry in 2012. Once we became comfortable with interpret- ing all the intricate details of the ADA signage laws, we've been able to proceed accordingly. Fortunately, the laws have remained stable over time and our design and production teams are ADA experts. What are some of the biggest visual trends you see shops request- ing from your signs? The biggest visual trends we are seeing right now are shapes and layers. Shops are requesting signs with several layers and shapes far from your standard square or rectangle. The shapes requested are often indicative of shapes found within the building's interior design or the shapes the may make up the logo of the company occupying the building. While it's obvious the layers add dimensionality, they also add an overall design aesthetic. Additionally, the layers may be necessary in order for the sign to hold a graphic insert, another visual trend. As previously mentioned, the introduction of 3D printing will certainly gain traction as a visual trend in the years to come. Not only are we able to print the numbers, words and braille on the sign, but also dimensional graphics and images. What is the biggest project Clarke Systems has ever undertaken and what lessons did you learn from it? We are very fortunate to have had a wonderful, long-standing relationship with the Mayo Clinic—well over 25 years and miles of aluminum extrusions. The relationship came to us through the remarkable, Steve Neumann, of The Design Office of Steve Neumann & Friends. They are a wayfinding firm, specializing in healthcare insti- tutions, made up of a team of graphic and architectural signage designers, not fabricators. Using the Clarke Systems SLATZ alu- minum extrusions, the Neumann team created a comprehensive complex wide interior signage program within one of the largest not-for-profit hospitals in the United States. SN&F was given the unique responsibility to successfully implement an interior program for 30+ buildings in and around Rochester, Minnesota; Jacksonville, Florida; Scottsdale/Phoenix, Arizona; and regional clinics and facili- ties in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa. While there weren't any particular lessons from our work with SN&F, we have certainly learned a lot over the years. As a wholesaler, we fabricate vs. implement. Given our manufacturing processes have remained consistent year over year, we implemented the addition of design and planning services, and as a result, we have learned a lot! From the understanding of installation methods to logistical planning, we have certainly fine-tuned our methods and can deliver extraordinary services for our customers. Matt Dixon Editor Charles Kelly Jr. Matt Dixon is the editor of Sign & Digital Graphics magazine. He can be reached at

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