Addressing the Heart

Published on: November 10, 2017 by Rachelle Ageev


We’re always gratified when one of our designs can have an impact beyond its primary function.

In this case, a young couple celebrating their 1st anniversary chose to affirm (celebrate) their commitment to one another in front of the branding element GNU Group designed for the office tower at One California Street.

Congratulations this lovely couple and thanks to Across the Sea Photography.

Paper Sign Inserts Made SIMple

Published on: September 6, 2017 by Rachelle Ageev

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It’s SIMple. That’s just one way to describe GNU’s Sign Insert Manager™ (SIM™).

SIM™ is a cloud-based service that allows paper sign inserts to be easily changed in-house. In addition to being simple, SIM™ makes replacing inserts fast, saves money and offers great design flexibility. Watch the video to see how SIM™ can revolutionize managing your changeable signs.


Capturing the Magic

Published on: July 18, 2017 by Rachelle Ageev

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After exhausting the rides and lines during a recent trip to Disneyland, the surroundings piqued our interests. 

How is Disney able to transport its visitors to other places and times, better than anyone? While the buildings do a good job of replicating a variety of architectural vernaculars, most are simply large, plain warehouse structures that contain the various attractions. It is apparent that the real determinant of their success in conveying the feel of different eras and varied locations is through the signs. If you stripped the parks of their signs and graphics, you’d be left with pretty plain vanilla streetscapes. 

The Disney theme parks should really be considered living signage museums. Signage designers work with a limited vocabulary of variables. Form, color, materials, lighting and especially typographic fonts are the elements that shape how a sign looks and the message it conveys. The resultant messages go way beyond the words.

Take a look at this gallery of Disneyland signs and see the impact signage design can make in creating a mood and telling a story.


Timeless Branding

Published on: June 1, 2017 by Rachelle Ageev


Of the thousands of branding books, almost without exception they define a brand as a promise to the customer or client. To that end, a brand is encapsulated in every aspect of a firm’s performance and behavior. However, the synthesis of a firm’s brand is in its visual representation.

Corporations have always embraced the logos and logotypes to create awareness of their services and products.  In the decades of the 60’s and 70’s, businesses introduced elaborate graphic standards programs with prescriptions for the treatment of every nuance of their visual identities.  

When developing a new visual brand you must understand graphic design. It is helpful to think of graphic design as a language. Its vocabulary is quite simple, including color, type, form, layout, graphic devices, materials, photos, illustrations and reproduction techniques. By combining these elements effectively you can visually communicate the essence of your brand.

What does your brand stand for? What do you want to convey about the attributes of your firm? Answers might include professional, progressive, contemporary, creative, or any of the adjectives that represent your brand promise. Translating these attributes through design means understanding the associations of the graphic vocabulary. Type fonts, for example, can reflect the period during which they were designed or came into popularity. Wood type from the old west, art deco style from the 1920s, or the Didone classic serif fonts from the late 18th century would each make a very different statement about your brand. Similarly, the psychology of color will have a significant impact on the perception conveyed through your identity.

Almost universally, new identities seek to be timeless. That is to say, “let’s design a logo that will last” is a common criteria for any new brand. There are many reasons to redesign a brand, but to design for obsolescence makes no sense. What makes an identity timeless?

The best way to answer that is to look at corporate identities that have stood the test of time. Coca-Cola has used the same logotype since 1886. IBM, CBS, Apple, McDonald’s, and FedEx are all examples of corporate logos that have represented their brands since their beginnings. Technology, media and reproduction techniques may have mandated minor modifications but these brands remain true to their roots. Simplicity, clarity, boldness, personality, elegance and especially the flexibility to adapt to the many context where they are used are all factors that have allowed these brands to thrive.   

Another brand that has aged well is SMPS. The logo was created for the fledgling Society in the late 1970’s as a pro bono contribution by California design firm, GNU Group. 

Describing the logo, the designers explained, “We’ve chosen a sophisticated typeface, Bodoni, and underscored the initial ‘M’ to represent the Society’s focus on marketing. We’ve encased the initials in a square, a fundamental form in the built environment and chosen bold primary colors for their energy and impact.”

If a new brand identity is in your future, study identities that have lasted through the years. Thoroughly understand the attributes you want to communicate and challenge your design team to demonstrate how they will be translated and how that will assure their qualities are enduring. 

Dress Rehearsal

Published on: May 22, 2017 by Rachelle Ageev


You have seen the renderings, reviewed the construction drawings and documents, and even created an animation of your new signs. These are all useful tools in evaluating any sign program. But there is no substitute for the real thing.

Prototyping select signs is invaluable in sign program implementation for a number of reasons. It’s the chance to validate that design and specifications are optimal for the locations before committing to significant fabrication costs. 

You’ll reassure that: 

• the size, form and scale fit the spaces where they will be placed

• colors, typography, contrast, legibility, viewing angles, illumination and the many other facets of functionality work

• materials, details and finishes meet expectations

• the fabricators thoroughly understand and can accurately interpret the specifications

• cost and budget issues are on target

Prototyping is also the ultimate step in affirming consensus and approvals by all stakeholders and a simple and cost-effective way to assure that signs will meet all expectations. 

Price, Service & Quality?

Published on: April 11, 2017 by Rachelle Ageev


When creating and implementing environmental branding, signage, and wayfinding programs, can you have all three – price, service, and quality – or do you end up settling for two?

This old adage about expectations when purchasing services could be an apt description of what often happens when creating and implementing environmental branding, signage and wayfinding programs. This is usually the result of the number of hands that touch a project. GNU has structured our process to deliver all three.

How we do it  

GNU’s methodology for developing environmental branding and wayfinding programs follows a prescriptive 7 step process honed over 4 decades. From analysis through installation, each step is thoroughly planned and calculated to meet a client’s goals. This happens at the very beginning with our Sign Profile Analysis™ (SPA™).

The  SPA™ identifies all program needs and expectations. Budgets are determined, quality standards are set and realistic schedules are cast. Once agreed upon by everyone, we have a clear path to deliver what we promise – price, service, and quality to match expectations

Whether modified design build or competitive bid, our SPA™ budgets drive our design solutions so there are never any surprises when the fabrication numbers come in. Schedules are also set to anticipate contingencies while accommodating client deadlines. Our creative teams combine dedicated project managers with creative designers, each with specific project responsibilities that ensure efficiency and avoid miscues. The team’s coordinated efforts keep projects on track. Long-standing relationships with select fabrication partners allow us to understand cost implications and deliver signs that meet the expectations for price, schedule, and quality.

We also have inordinate control through the final stages of any program with our own in-house installation crew to make sure that the last step of the process is seamless.

We are especially proud of our processes and our track record for delivering quality solutions, on time and on budget.

Another New GNU

Published on: March 2, 2017 by Rachelle Ageev

In the past few years, the GNU Group has been honored to work with amazing clients.
LinkedIn, Atlassian, PG&E, RocketFuel, and SuccessFactors are among the companies who have selected us for their environmental branding, wayfinding, signage and marketing communications programs. We are especially grateful to Martin Kindred who, as GNU’s Director of Business Development for the past five years, introduced us to many of these great projects. Martin has recently decided to pursue an opportunity to join one of our favorite fabrication partners, Icon Identity Systems.

We are also pleased to announce the addition of Mike Vallenari to GNU’s Leadership Team. Mike comes to GNU from the world of Corporate Real Estate. Over his 30 year career he has held management positions at Hickey & Associates, Johnson Controls, First Industrial Realty Trust, Trammell Crow Company, Opus Development and Cornoyer Hedrick Architects as a senior sales executive with extensive global, national and local experience. Mike’s CoreNet Global credentials include MCR (Master of Corporate Real Estate) and SLCR (Senior Leader Corporate Real Estate) designations. He has served on the Executive Board of Directors and as Honoree Committee Co-Chair for CoreNet’s NorCal Chapter where he has been and active participant for over 25 years.

“Having Mike join the team that will propel GNU to its 5th decade significantly expands the support we can offer our real estate clients,” explains Phil Murphy, GNU’s CEO. “Our practice must always appreciate and respond to our clients’ distinct challenges. Mike’s real estate expertise will be an invaluable asset for GNU and our clients.”

GNUs Give

Published on: December 21, 2016 by Rachelle Ageev


Each year end is a time to reflect on the blessings that we at GNU Group enjoy.

We take this time to pay it forward to our community by helping those in need. Each year we join with Brighter Beginnings to help make the holidays a little brighter. The GNU team purchases gifts for our adopted family of five, enjoy a present wrapping party in the office and deliver them in time for Christmas.

We also make sure we take time out to celebrate our own hard work with a celebration that brings our team and extended families together. Everyone at GNU wishes you and a very joyous holiday and a happy GNU year!

GNUs from ULI

Published on: November 17, 2016 by Rich Burns


The Urban Land Institute’s mission is “to provide leadership in the responsible use of land and creating sustaining thriving communities worldwide.”

As the preeminent organization dedicated to the real estate industry, ULI casts a very wide net. Virtually every land use type, critical movements and trending issues, best practices and innovative initiatives are all within ULI’s purview. The efficacy with which ULI fulfills this mission is always on display at the Annual Fall Meeting. Held this year in downtown Dallas, the meeting was testament to the depth and quality by which ULI delivers on its mandate.

The meeting is four days of educational programs, keynote addresses, mobile workshops, tours, social and networking events. Without question it is an opportunity to take the pulse of what’s really happening in the broad world of real estate. From casual interaction with the nearly 6000 attendees, coupled with in-depth presentations on economics one quickly gains insight to the state of the industry. By this year’s measure, the operative description is ‘cautiously optimistic’.

This year the meeting took on a different demeanor from past year. The 2015 meeting in San Francisco strongly focused on how changing demographics and disruptive technologies (think Uber, AirB&B, Amazon, Facebook) are altering the world of real estate and provoked serious consideration of how real estate will respond. This year was characterized by presentations on topics such as social movements, art installations, food production, healthy living and other ‘soft’ subjects. While filled with interesting lessons, last year imperative to action was missing.

This had a certain irony to it in as much as the meeting took place shortly before the election. It was almost as if the attendees had been issued a request not to talk about it. Only one session dared to bring up the subject in a clinical discussion of economic forecasts. Ken Rosen, from UC’s Fischer Center for Real Estate and Urban Economics, explained that the candidates’ positions being so ‘diametrically opposed’, were worthy of discussion. He predicted that the push for infrastructure programs by both would be a huge positive for real estate. However, he cautioned that a new administration would take some time to ramp up, particularly given the lack of shovel ready projects. He worried about restrictive trade policies while explaining that immigration is responsible for 50% of the US population growth and changed policies could become a major deterrent for real estate. This same panel predicted interest rates might rise to 2.5% in the next 2-3 years and that the next recession is still a few years off.

ULI is a wealth of resources. Recapping the meeting just scratches the surface of the volume of available information. Linked below are a few of the important publications that can be found on the website and that should be required reading for real estate professionals.

Emerging Trends in Real Estate 2017

Comprehensive predictions for the future are captured in ULI’s seminal publication, An annual survey of almost 2000 real estate professionals.

Consensus Forecast

A three-year forecast (‘16’-18) for 27 economic and real estate indicators.

The ULI Greenprint Center for Building Performance

Report on the state of sustainability practices.

Energy Efficiency and Investment Returns: The Critical Role of Tenants

Introduction to an important new initiative on how to incorporate energy savings into tenant spaces in commercial buildings. This program was introduced at the meeting and promises to revolutionize the way tenant spaces are designed and built out.

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