How to Budget for Wayfinding and EGD Projects

Best practices in preparing real timelines and budgets, and avoid surprises

It’s not everyday that an organization undertakes an environmental graphic design project. Whether it is a large-scale urban wayfinding program or a smaller banner program, knowing how long it will take to complete and what it will cost you is a tall order when you haven’t yet had the experience.

In this paper, we present tips on what to expect and how to plan timelines and budgets for your next wayfinding or EGD project to avoid surprises and achieve success.

Develop Clear Project Parameters

“And…we need this in four weeks.” In our line of work, we are used to hearing and, in many cases, working within tight deadlines for projects. But when it comes to EGD projects, the game changes. Understanding the parameters of the type of project you will be developing is a good place to start. For example, exterior sign programs can seem to take on a life of their own when it comes to time, simply for the fact that you may end up with more people involved in the process than you originally anticipated.

Schedule Mandatory Government Reviews

Most, if not all exterior sign programs — even simple banner programs — will have to be reviewed by one or more government review boards. In smaller cities, exterior signage or graphics programs are reviewed by Architectural Review Boards. Larger cities may require several review boards, such as a Landmark or Street Amenity Committee along with Planning and Design Review Boards.

Preparing, scheduling and presenting to these entities takes time and needs to be considered in the overall schedule. In most cities, when several Boards have to be seen, the meetings can be scheduled in consecutive days or weeks. However, if something is in the plan or design is rejected or deemed unfavorable, it could be another month before that Board meets again.

We recommend engaging these Boards prior to formal presentations for preliminary reviews to avoid this schedule delay, but understand that during the course of the project, these reviews will need to take place.

Plan for Necessary Permits

Another common schedule-buster is special permitting for sign programs. In the City of Cleveland, for example, any sign program that will be installed within the public right-of-way is required to obtain an Encroachment Permit. This permit actually requires that the locations of all signs be properly and precisely documented and the content and location for the sign is written into legislation. This can take up to three months to complete! Understanding how long permitting processes may take, what your options are and who needs to file will help to plan when the permitting process will need to start in order to keep your project on target.

Build Cushion into your Timeline

Clients are always surprised by the amount of time it takes to fabricate and install sign programs. After 20+ years of working on EGD projects, we finally have an idea of how long it actually takes to fabricate and install a sign program. The answer: it’s always longer than you think. What we’re really trying to say is, get intel from those with experience, whether it’s a design consultant, a fabricator or an organization similar to your own that has gone through the process.

Several factors come into play during the fabrication and installation phases. As an experienced EGD firm, here’s what we find to be most typical.

Sample Fabrication & Installation Timeline

  • 2 weeks for the development of fabricator-produced shop drawings
  • 1-2 weeks to review these drawings (the review of shop drawings is critical to ensure your project is built accurately to the plan and design).
  • 8-10 weeks of fabrication after the drawings are approved by both the client and consultant.
  • 2-4 weeks for installation of larger projects
  • Grand total of 14-18 weeks from the time the project drawings are released to the fabricator, for the project to be built and complete

Installation comes with its own set of obstacles. Interior sign programs may need to be scheduled during specific times when your space is vacant or at least, less busy. Exterior programs are greatly affected by weather. So give yourself some extra time and set conservative expectations with colleagues and stakeholders.

It’s Going to Cost What?!

Who loves budgets? Maybe accountants, but nothing causes more squirming than asking what something is going to cost. As consultants, our goal is to develop programs and designs within the means of our clients. We ask very early, “What is your budget for this project?” Often, the answer is, “We have no idea.” Sometimes, we receive a project scope or wish list that, from our experience, does not align with how much it will cost to design or even fabricate — and then we have a frustrated client and a project that may never be realized.

Even more critical than the timeline, a project budget needs very careful consideration prior to developing an RFP, engaging a consultant or beginning the project.

For complex wayfinding programs, you should engage a wayfinding consultant. Typically, firms like ours provide proposals based on estimated hours at a set hourly rate. These are developed after careful review of the scope, the type of work that we’d expect to deliver and the hours and expenses estimated for the entirety of the project. Consultants’ fees are typically not developed based on square footage or other models you may find in the architectural and construction industries.

If you are engaging a consultant who will be working on your project from planning through implementation, expect a 1-2 year investment in the project relationship.

Don’t be Shy

The best way to understand what this investment might look like is to reach out to organizations like your own who have gone through the process. If you are looking into a streetscape sign program, getting in touch with professional organizations such as the National Trust for Historic Preservation or the International Downtown Association can point you to Main Street groups or cities in your state that have implemented similar projects. SEGD (Society for Environmental Graphic Design) is a professional organization that represents a large pool of designers and consultants. They may be able to direct you to organizations or firms that have implemented similar scope and scale projects as well. See a project you like? Contact the project owner to find out who worked on it and what they paid to have it designed and fabricated.  We often get calls from potential clients asking for some more detail on a completed project — what did it cost, how long did it take, a description of the process, etc. We are happy to share.

Make a Plan

Another option for establishing a project budget is to engage a consultant in a project planning exercise. At Guide Studio, we call this an Audit. The fee for this work is usually fairly low and the outcome is useful in identifying the project scope, scale, preliminary design issues and budgets for fabrication, and can be a great tool for applying for grants or building a case for your budget.

The consultant can identify project delivery models that can affect time and cost and provide project priorities and phasing scenarios to ease the impact of the investment.

Timelines and budgets are critical models to establish before entering into any environmental graphic design project. Taking these steps to define and provide parameters for these elements ahead of time will make you an educated owner, and help you feel more in control of the process. As always, communicating expectations early with your consultant team will help you navigate these issues more efficiently and effectively, resulting in a more successful project.

Ready to evaluate the opportunities and costs for your next Wayfinding or EGD project? Be in touch for for an estimate on a Wayfinding Audit.



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