The guardian and the terrier
Harald and Jens-Peter Volk on good orientation
The brothers Harald (picture above) and Jens-Peter Volk run the concept design studio "Atelier für konzeptionelle Gestaltung" in Constance. Alongside the development of corporate design concepts, they have also specialized in orientation and signage systems. Working on behalf of and in collaboration with Siedle, the Volk brothers planned the signage system for the ARCUS Sports Clinic in Pforzheim.
The specialists consider the design of orientation systems to be a cross-sectional task which should ideally start as early as the planning phase of a building and is far from being finished once the building is complete.
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What do you consider the essence of a good orientation system?

Jens-Peter Volk:
A reliable system of orientation should enable visitors to find their way around without help, right from the moment they first enter the building. And this should not require the capacity for spatial thinking which only an architect has.

Harald Volk:
In hospitals, orientation exerts a great impact on patient satisfaction. A patient should never be allowed to wander round lost or end up in the wrong waiting room. Good orientation engenders trust and confidence that we are in right place.

How do we achieve this?


Jens-Peter Volk:
The whole planning process starts with a destination list: What are the things people need to find. Then it is essential to understand the organizational flows and structures by studying them.

Harald Volk:
That is meant quite literally: We walk every route ourselves. This forms the basis for a plan which usually differs markedly from the plans drawn up by the architect.

How does this come about?

Jens-Peter Volk:
We take off our designer's hat and replace it with a user's hat. The architect has a quite different way of looking at things.

But still, architects often plan signage systems.

Jens-Peter Volk:
Many feel it is part of their job. The architect who simply adopts the system of technical room numbering. Interior architects, whose main concern is to be decorative. Sign producers, who offer a planning service as a free bonus if you purchase their products. Designers who understand neither the language nor the aspirations of the technical crafts. Or clients who believe that the job is done simply by buying attractive signs. The topic of orientation is rarely dealt with on a professional level.

What do you do differently?

Harald Volk:
We focus on the functional aspect. We draw all these different interests together, involve them, coordinate them and do a lot of convincing. The earlier all this happens, the better. We call this an integral or holistic approach.

What do mean by that?

Harald Volk:
Primarily this encompasses a wealth of details which interlock and work together. For example the grouting distances of floor panels, the position of electrical connections and light sources, the position of underfloor heating systems. The correct setting of foundations in the right position, technical details appertaining to the hanging of signs. But also the choice of words used at the reception, whose information content must tally with the signage system. Or taking into account the house colours and lettering systems, the right typography, and naturally also the selection of an adequate support system. Our responsibility also stretches to taking proper account of protocol, such as: Where and how do I include first names and titles of dignitaries and officials, where can they be left off?

That sounds like the diplomatic service.

Jens-Peter Volk:
It certainly does. But when it comes to changing habits or altering parameters, then assertiveness is key. There are times when you have to be vehement.

Harald Volk:
Each of us is allotted our own specific task: My brother is the defender of the holy grail of design, my role is to police its implementation on the ground.

Jens-Peter Volk:
That makes it sound worse than it is. We can be very pushy when it comes to the details of implementation. But when we achieve the result we are looking for, afterwards people are grateful.

What is the role played by the product design of the signs you use?

Jens-Peter Volk:
The support system has to put the original design idea into practice. To this extent, the product design defines the possibilities open to us.

Harald Volk:
First of all it asks the question: What is possible using a certain support system? And then: How good, how elegant can we make it? Is the system sustainable, how easy will it be to alter it, update it or maintain it in the future? And importantly too: Are the aesthetic aspects right, does it fit into the overall picture?

You used the Siedle system for the first time in the Arcus Clinic. What is your impression?

Harald Volk:
The system offers certain unique selling properties. The immediately striking fascination of the system: No visible fastenings. This lends an aura of finesse to the product.

Jens-Peter Volk:
The system encompasses instruments which allow us individuality without the need to develop everything from scratch. It offers a whole range of possibilities for exploring a corporate design concept. And as an added bonus, it is highly compatible from the architectural point of view. Its design lends focus to the value perception while still placing functionality and information in the foreground.

So are aesthetic attributes a decisive factor?

Jens-Peter Volk:
That is only part of the story. The support system was specifically designed. We were enthused by this concept. For instance, in the large hanging signs, Siedle replaced stainless steel with aluminium to cut down on weight.

Harald Volk:
We weren't able to drill into the glass walls of elevator doors. The signs, which weigh a good 30 kilos, had to be glued permanently and durably in place but also allow removal without destroying the substrate. This was new territory also for the manufacturer. So the first thing was to carry out gluing tests to be absolutely sure. Only then did Siedle put its stamp of approval on the method.

Jens-Peter Volk:
Siedle has a unique fund of product know-how. A manufacturer who tests his products in a climate chamber inspires completely different sense of confidence.

The Siedle system offers scope for the integration of electronic functions. Is there any point in that?

Jens-Peter Volk:
Absolutely. The combination of orientation signs and personal interaction is an ideal scenario. Think for instance of door signs with intercom function, a code lock or fingerprint reader.

Harald Volk:
In this regard, we are far from having exhausted the system's potential. This is first and foremost a question of a cross-functional approach. Planning processes carried out at different times and divided according to the different trades often result in a problem which prevents integral working.
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