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 uli.org 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.

Take a dip into our SPA™

Published on: October 19, 2016 by Rachelle Ageev


The Sign Profile Analysis™ (SPA™) parallels what the architectural community calls research or programming.

Our SPA™ is distinguished by the way it presents the findings. The evaluation and processing of the myriad of project details result in the SPA™ document. This document is comprised of the following components.

• Circulation Plans – depict paths of travel to all spaces in and around your project.

• Use Plans – identifies all major functions.

• Sign Location Analysis – shows locations of each sign type.

• Sign Hierarchy – identifies each sign type by a specific category:

• Branding features that communicate your organization’s identity

• Wayfinding signs orchestrate traffic from one destination to another

• Identification signs to help people understand the environment

• Regulatory signs to meet compliance requirements

• Sign Count / Preliminary Pricing – estimates for the cost to fabricate and install

The  SPA™ delivers a comprehensive document, presentation of findings and recommendations for discussion that includes a complete sign count, pricing of design and fabrication options, budget ranges of high/low for each sign type, wayfinding strategy, research of sign codes based on project jurisdiction and finally, any electrical, lighting, and landscape information you need to know to prevent add services at a later date.

Like a house or a car, the cost depends on the details. When we’re done with the SPA™, you will have everything you need to make informed decisions about what things will cost and how to allocate your signage budgets.

For more information, watch our video on the SPA™!


GNU Place, GNU Face

Published on: September 13, 2016 by Rachelle Ageev


Will Ayers has joined the GNU Group to lead our expansion in Southern California. With the opening of a downtown Los Angeles office, we’re adding new dimensions to our over 40-year legacy of serving clients worldwide.

We welcome Will joins as a Principal and member of our Leadership Team. He brings to the firm an extraordinary pedigree in environmental branding and experiential design and we look forward to our new home in the iconic architectural landmark – the Fine Arts Building.

Our new address is:
Fine Arts Building
811 West 7th Street
Los Angeles, CA 90017


Growing Fast at 40+

Published on: November 3, 2015 by Rachelle Ageev

for blog

How can a firm that’s already been in business for over 40 years be one of the SF Business Times  Bay Area’s 100 Fastest Growing Private Companies?

“Growth is an important measure of success,” explains GNU Group President/CEO Phil Murphy, “We’re constantly seeking ways to improve our performance and have implemented a number of programs and changes recently that are making a difference.” Our recent success can be directly attributed to our company culture.

While every company has a distinct culture, some are by default and some are by design. Ours is strategic and is the foundation of our practice. We call it GNU’s Explicit Culture™. It is based on 4 simple and straight-forward pillars.

1. Financial Transparency – As Phil explains, “Everyone is an owner but without the same degree of risk.” We share performance goals and results. In addition to making all information available, the firm is committed to sharing the success. Everyone knows what is expected of them and how their contributions will impact the firm’s success and how they will share in the rewards.

2. Prescribed Processes – Our success is predicated on creativity and efficiency. Our processes and training may be atypical of a creative firm but systems never inhibit creativity. Good management is fundamental to both our client’s and our own success.

3. Honest Communications – We promote candid and open discourse. It eliminates agendas that bubble below the surface in so many companies. Perhaps more than any other factor, honest communications has been the foundation of the firm’s culture.

4. Personal Responsibility – The expectations incumbent in the first 3 pillars mean that everyone is accountable. This requires doing what you say you will do, adhering to the processes, bringing a positive and energetic attitude to the office each day, respecting your peers and wanting to be a part of the company’s future.

Our team continues to grow and our leadership is constantly seeking opportunities for improvement. Our merger with Donnelly Design combined the talents of Tom Donnelly and Dickson Keyser to greatly enhance our design team’s capabilities. Our Director of Business Development, Martin Kindred, has brought us wonderful opportunities, clients and projects. Andrea Guzman, our Director of Project Management, leads an inspired group dedicated to delivering Pain Free project management for every assignment. Phil believes the recent addition of Sandi Najera as COO, who joins us from AECOM, is adding a new perspectives for our leadership team and business strategies while allowing him to focus on GNU’s future growth. Our entire team of 33 professionals come to work each day committed to our Explicit Culture™ and are laser focused on delighting our clients with the best possible service and solutions.

Sounds easy? We won’t go so far as to say it is never without its hiccups, but the San Francisco Business Times recognition is testimony to the power of culture and that what we are doing is right.

GNU Group SFBT ad EM

Hablamos Juntos

Published on: September 29, 2015 by Andrea Guzman


The recently opened Ravenswood Family Health Center in East Palo Alto provides affordable care to the community’s lowest income patients. After 15 years of operating out of modular buildings, the move to a spacious, colorful, light filled two story facility is an important addition to quality healthcare for everyone.

The Center draws patients from an ethnically diverse audience that includes mostly non-English speakers. The wayfinding and signage program needed to make information comprehensible to all. To accommodate the area’s large Tongan Population, the GNU Group designed signage that includes translations in English, Spanish and Tongan. website directory The program is enhanced with Universal Wayfinding iconography based on Hablamos Juntos, a system of graphic symbols designed for health care facilities serving diverse public users, with special focus on those with low literacy and limited English proficiency.

Hablamos Juntos means “We speak together.” It is a program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in an ongoing partnership with SEGD. “The combination of tri-lingual signage, the Hablamos Juntos icons, color coding and prominent placement of messages all contribute to spaces that are easy to navigate,” explains Andrea Guzman, GNUs Director of Project management.

Graphics and wayfinding were closely coordinated with Inde Architects and Creo Landscape Architects to assure that design expressions, color palettes, locations and placement were harmonious throughout the Center. GNU also designed the Center’s Donor Recognition program. The Center is made possible by multimillion-dollar donations from individuals and organizations. Prominently acknowledging them through naming rights and identification within the Center was key to the program.

“Our creative team was able to capture the spirit and vision for the Center through every aspect of the design. The signage and graphics set exactly the right tone and meets the unusually complex wayfinding needs of the Center.” Luisa Buada, Executive Director – RavenswoodIMG_1425IMG_4808IMG_1323IMG_1380IMG_1296IMG_1328

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