When the pandemic first hit, the majority of New York City’s commercial buildings and businesses were forced to close immediately. Fast forward to today. At time of print, New York is safely entering the next phases of reopening, which includes the momentous phase of permitting indoor dining (at 25% capacity). Regardless, New York City commercial spaces are not going to function — or look — exactly as they did pre-pandemic. Businesses are navigating a new reality, and altering the behavior in which we navigate indoor spaces is key to having these commercial spaces remain open. In a world where congregating is now a health risk, New York City — a metropolis that is fundamentally defined by shared experiences — is enduring a unique kind of suffering.
Etiquette for congregating, socializing and wayfinding continues to evolve. When New York City was anticipating Phase 1 of its reopening strategy, it implemented an Official Reopening Guide to help business owners determine whether they were meeting new standards. Each business entity, including those that had been designated as essential under Empire State Development’s Essential Business Guidance, was required to develop a written Safety Plan outlining how the entity will prevent the spread of COVID-19. Similarly, Cushman & Wakefield published a Retail Readiness Checklist — an eight-step guideline to help business owners create a CDC-approved retail environment, with a heavy focus on safety, hygiene and distancing protocols. Successful implementation of safety standards is crucial for the health of workers and customers and, in turn, crucial for our economy as we keep businesses open and running.
Commercial environments are relying heavily on signage to help instruct and encourage best safety practices. At Indiesigns — an e-commerce shop where businesses can purchase safety signage created by independent artists — the goal is to help businesses reopen safely without compromising on design. That means signage that follows CDC guidelines but is also visually appealing and friendly. In times of struggle, we look to creatives to help conceptualize ways of dealing with our strife. The World Health Organization guidelines for coping with COVID-19 include the recommendation that individuals “find opportunities to amplify positive and hopeful stories.” Designers are currently re-thinking in real time the future of the commercial environment and are looking to inject positivity, reassurance and hope into our new environments. At the end of the day, patrons need to see that their well-being is being taken care of, whether they’re residing, working, shopping, dining or traveling. Seeing is believing.
Visual communication and branding sets the tone for the experience patrons. It provides both the emotional context and individual personality for the space that informs how to act and what the patrons’ connection to their environment should be. In times of crisis, the power of positive, uplifting aesthetics in public service announcements cannot be understated. Signage should prioritize aesthetics when the message being communicated is one fraught with hardship, trauma and grief.
For the foreseeable future, the New York commercial business experience will continue to be defined by sanctioned rules: social distancing, sanitization and mandatory PPE. An affordable and effective way to communicate behavioral requirements is not only important for reiterating the safety message but also to communicate to clientele that the business has done its due diligence and is following guidelines closely. Floor decals, wall signs and peel-and-stick signs can be customized to suit the specific needs of the business and can help to inform customer and employee navigation and prevent any confusion or disorientation. Because “clean is the new green,” business owners need to work to rebuild the trust of their clientele, who have become educated on all of the risks associated with stepping foot inside the building.
This year has proven that the commercial built environment — buildings and the way we use them for economic gain — is more than just brick-and-mortar, ROI and bottom lines. The way in which the community interacts with these buildings, consciously or subconsciously, has a direct effect on their wellbeing, which has a direct effect on the economy. At the end of the day, visual communication and signage are primary ways a business communicates with its customer; this experience should be a positive one.
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