Paul Koch

Paul Koch

Static vs Flexible vs Digital

Wayfinding… I am this guy who gets lost in the smallest places but knows his way in large areas. Let’s call it short-sighted. Being in the Signage industry for 27 years, I have seen many things changing. In the beginning, I was installing Sign Systems and many years later I was working as a salesman. Obviously, I do appreciate a timeless Static Modular Sign System to help me find my way.

Wayfinding… I am this guy who gets lost in the smallest places but knows his way in large areas. Let’s call it short-sighted.

Being in the Signage industry for 27 years, I have seen many things changing. In the beginning, I was installing Sign Systems and many years later I was working as a salesman. Obviously, I do appreciate a timeless Static Modular Sign System to help me find my way.

The principle of it is of course modularity: every part needs a vinyl cut text. You can remove a profile and replace it with one having a new text. However, changing it requires quite some effort and maybe over time colors will have faded. Eventually, something really cool will look like crap.

Later (in the ’90s) digital printing came along. Static Modular signage changed to Flexible signage. The new trend was the sleek looking profiles you could use to slide in acrylics with a paper in between. Sign changes in a snap. Very handy since -in theory- the building managers could change the signs themselves simply by inserting a self-printed paper. Very flexible.

Now we are in 2020. Since 5 years we have seen many digital sign systems being presented in trade shows worldwide. I have been very enthusiastic about them because I am a bit of a tech geek. However, if you look at it in realistic figures, its cost is too big and it would make little sense of choosing it, at least until screen prices go down towards paper prices. Wouldn’t it be cool to change the image of any door sign remotely from your PC? Unfortunately, I don’t see this happening in the near future if the cost of the digital sign system stays that high.

Apparently, we are back to the Flexible signage as the currently viable solution. But throughout all the years working in the sign industry and having a fair share of wayfinding projects, I didn’t notice any regular changes of the inserted paper in those flexible signs.
I am convinced that this is a typical example of a “unique feature” that was not really needed by the market. It served the purpose of just being an additional USP (unique selling point) but this feature of “flexibility” has hardly ever been used.

Methods like cut vinyl and printed paper are being replaced by digital printing and sublimation on rigid media.

Moreover, we now witness massive changes in printing! Methods like cut vinyl and printed paper are being replaced by digital printing and sublimation on rigid media. It is also easy to add Accessible Signage on rigid media (braille for visually impaired people, for example), which is mandatory in many countries. It has become so cheap and fast to deliver a digital print (on forex for example), that there is no need for paper inlays. Correct me if I am wrong.

And besides this, If you are the signmaker, wouldn’t you like to see your customer back once in a while for some changes? If you are being so “flexible”, you basically give potential new business deals away. In case your customer wants to change their paper inlay themselves, there is a big chance that they will not print and cut it in a professional way, resulting in a sign that will probably look sloppy, thus creating a negative image of your company.

In my next design, I will say “No” to paper inlays!

No more “frames” to hold creativity down.