Midwestern Sensibilities

Corbin Design's specialization in environmental graphics yields distinctive programs.
Feb 11 Corbin 1.jpg

Jeffry Corbin founded his eponymous, Traverse City, MI-based design firm in 1976. Originally, the firm focused on such interdisciplinary concepts as residential architecture, interior design and marketing communications. In 1997, the firm’s principals chose to solely pursue EGD, with a concentration in academic, healthcare and civic institutions.
“We don’t solely consider ourselves sign designers,” Mark VanderKlipp, the firm’s president and senior designer, said. “Our real value lies in our ability to consult with clients to resolve their communication issues in various ways, with signs often serving as a primary medium for developing wayfinding.”
He said the firm enjoys its most productive working relationships when an owner hires the firm within a larger team of architects, interior designers and related consultants: “Because of our deep specialization within one field, we’re able to handle the complex set of ‘moving parts’ that a successful wayfinding system requires and deliver simple, clear programs that can be maintained by the client.”
However, VanderKlipp has also been concerned by the low priority given to signage on many new building projects: “A campus architect recently commented that an architectural consultant deferred signage until the end of a project, which caused him to say, ‘Do what you want.’ We’re used to strict deadlines, and it’s gratifying to know that our work can have an immediate impact.”
He continued, “However, because of EGD’s role as the bridge between the built environment and verbal communications, in-depth pre-planning is required. The program’s value lies both in the content and designed outcomes, so it’s vital to engage clients early to address environmental graphics and wayfinding within their internal culture.”
VanderKlipp noted that Corbin has some input on a project’s fabricators, and clients often want multiple, potential sources in order to encourage competitive bidding so they aren’t obligated to a single price structure: “We’ll work with a client to pre-qualify regional or national fabricators. For many large projects, a fabricator with the resources to handle a large rollout will build the signs, and a local fabricator or in-house staff will manage its ongoing maintenance,” VanderKlipp said.
He said Corbin’s design and planning process begins with the client’s internal audience by defining how they “speak to wayfinding” as a reflection of an institution’s culture: “Once terminology has been simplified, it’s time to determine how the program will appear in the built environment.”
Recognizing that EGD extends far beyond signage, the firm consults interior designers, building and landscape architects, and lighting designers to en sure “wayfinding information is evident, but not overwhelming.” Restrictions preclude most institutions from using a design/build project model, but VanderKlipp said Corbin Design enlists fabricators early for engineering advice, cost-savings design and durability and permitting input, among other details, for analysis, recommendations and developing specs.”
In terms of developing sustainable EGD, he said Corbin focuses on environmental and process sustainability. For the environmental component, VanderKlipp noted the company increasingly specs energy-efficient lighting sources, low-VOC paints and low-power-consumption monitors for electronic-display applications. Regarding process, he said the company recommends efficient, modular components and sign standards that minimize waste and “prevent the reinvention of the wheel” when a campus addition or renovation occurs.