Standing Out with Storytelling Signage

Oct. 7, 2018
Design group helps set the stage for professional confidence and manufacturing success.

Manufacturing may be exciting work, but it’s usually not very attractive – and that’s a problem for manufacturers working to recruit promising newcomers and train talented associates. Is it possible a better setting might improve their efforts?

At Lansing Community College in Michigan, the new Center for Manufacturing Excellence (CME) is a state-of-the-art training cluster designed to prepare today’s youth for tomorrow’s manufacturing technology. To create a visually appealing space that will attract and inspire students, Lansing Community College turned to Ideation Orange, a branded environment signage firm based in Royal Oak, Mich.

Branded environments create the atmosphere of an organization through an intentional combination of architecture, graphics, interior design, and signage. Such an atmosphere expresses an organization’s values, story, and culture. It is designed to influence how people perceive a brand, and to differentiate an organization in a way that people can experience, engage with, and remember. Branded environments are designed to influence how people feel about a company and brand at a fundamental level.

The CME in Lansing is just one of several recent, manufacturing-focused projects for Ideation Orange that use the power of branded space and storytelling signage. While talent recruitment is a current challenge for manufacturers, Ideation Orange is using storytelling signage to help the CME and manufacturers stand out.

Attracting with Branding

Lansing Community College’s new CME houses the most modern, cutting-edge equipment and robotics available to manufacturers, equipment similar to what students may expect to find in a real-life workplace. Working with this equipment, the school trains students for careers in advanced automation.

The signage and branding objective at CME was planned and selected to inspire prospective students as they moved through the space.  “We wanted students to see and believe that working in manufacturing could be a cool career, with great pay, and that Lansing Community College would be a great place to start,” recalled Daren Bossenberger, President of Ideation Orange.

For students entering the CME building, the design goals were 1) for them to recognize a place that is highly-specialized and designed specifically for them; and 2) for students to see and believe that manufacturing is a sophisticated and modern career choice. Several visual design elements were used:  
•  Oversized, yellow safety striping typically found on plant floors;
•  Larger than life images of real people handling advanced technology;
•  The use of metal as well as dark, warm gray colors and finishes that look like steel;
•  Patterns to communicate order and precision; and,
•  Scale – big factory spaces require big elements.

The architecture for the CME was designed by Harley Ellis Devereaux, and the firm incorporated unique features that present interesting environmental graphic design opportunities. For example, an “accordion wall’ near the entrance greets prospective students and welcomes back the enrolled with a large graphic message — “BUILD YOUR FUTURE” — while larger-than-life murals of young people working in advanced manufacturing environments bring future careers into vivid focus.

Since many prospective students come from video gaming culture, an art piece was designed using 66 unique industrial icons to connect that gaming culture to a technological future. According to Ideation Lead Designer Michelle Lannoo, “In many video games, as players progress through the game, they accumulate strengths, powers, and assets represented by icons added to their dock. I wanted to symbolize the strengths, powers, and assets that students of CME achieve as they work through their program.”  

Inside the manufacturing space, the large scale of seven 14-ft. tall vertical banners spaced 37 in. apart make a big brand impression, while communicating the story of order and precision. The space that houses the fully-automated, robotic assembly line Flexible Manufacturing Unit, known as “The Flex”, features the American flag to promote pride in advanced American manufacturing. A series of custom-designed, mobile pylons communicate the stages of manufacturing in the Flex.

Plant safety is always a top concern in manufacturing. Ideation Orange used bold branding colors to demark an area used as a hydration station and safety area. To highlight the role of a modern manufacturing repair specialist, Ideation Orange painted the words “Innovate, Create, Diagnose, Install, Repair, Maintain” on the overhead ducts.

Everything about the CME story design is planned to give students a positive experience, from the moment they enter as prospective students to their everyday manufacturing learning environment.

Improving Sales, Recruiting through Storytelling

“Prior to working with Ideation, it was hard to determine what Morrell Group does when in our office space and conference rooms. We are now able to really show what Morrell Group believes in and where we are headed,” according to Mark Garrett, President of Morrell Group, an Auburn Hills, Mich.-based manufacturing and engineering firm.  “We also wanted to continue to invest in our people and improve the work spaces and breakroom for them. We want our team to be proud of where they work, and also enjoy their areas of the building.”

“We have had fantastic feedback from our visitors and feel Ideation helped us achieve our original goals,” Garrett added.

Morrell Group wanted the interior design of their headquarters to tell a story that would help increase sales and recruit top talent. As existing and prospective customers regularly tour the headquarters in Auburn Hills as part of their buying process, this facility was the perfect place to showcase all the fully-engineered and manufacturing solutions the Morrell Group is capable of providing.

Focusing on visitors, the space design included wayfinding as well as storytelling signage. Once again, custom icons are used to represent the Morrell Group capabilities, and other branded graphics showcase the company locations across the Midwest. The interior shop floor space conveys the idea of “one team, infinite solutions” through the use of bold graphics.

Typography and icon treatment bring consistency to the hierarchy of Morrell Group sub-brands, starting at the conference rooms and extending throughout the space. A designated Solutions Center was created to showcase Morrell’s components and engineered solutions.

The Solutions Center offers corporate guests the opportunity to discover examples of real-world solutions that Morrell Group has developed in an interactive, museum setting that showcases how the individual components contribute to the overall solution.

The Morrell Group competes for top talent in both engineering and manufacturing. They want prospective employees to feel that it will be a “cool place to work” while communicating their strong history,  innovations, and marketplace strengths. The changes started at the reception area, which was marked with the company logo and brand color, and extend to walls adorned with custom artwork, to reflect the Morrell Group’s emphasis on motion while bringing a level of sophistication to the manufacturing space. During the design, a seldom-used office space was repurposed as a collaboration lounge -  a designated place, less formal than a conference room, where teams could come together to solve customer challenges.

Moving into the industrial areas of the Auburn Hills facility, the story of Morrell Group’s national impact is highlighted and organizational pride is promoted with brand messaging such as “Moving America”. The power of the unified company is emphasized by using large messaging in the manufacturing shop. In the breakroom, a mural, brand colors, and messaging emphasize the most valuable component of Morrell Group – its people.

The Look of Manufacturing Tomorrow

Lansing Community College and Morrell Group recognized the value of setting the stage for professional confidence and manufacturing success. Manufacturing today uses technology at an unprecedented pace. Modernization of the manufacturing environment includes adding new marketing techniques like the intentional use of signage branding and wayfinding storytelling elements to the manufacturer’s branding toolkit.
Alexandria Trusov is a marketing consultant and works with Ideation Orange, as well as manufacturing firms. Contact her at

About the Author

Alexandria Trusov | Marketing Consultant

Alexandria Trusov is a marketing consultant working with manufacturers and other B2B companies.