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

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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

Keeping Austin Weird

Published on: June 23, 2015 by Dickson Keyser



Today’s corporations are intently focused on expressing their unique cultures through their overall branding programs, while allowing the distinction of their varied locations to shine.  In opening their Austin, Texas facilities, Australian based Atlassian, wanted to meld their corporate culture with the distinct character that defines Austin. Diverse. Local. Weird.

Atlassian is an international company specializing in software to plan, collaborate, code, and service. Built for teams. GNU was invited to help capture the Austin dynamic in an environmental branding program that enhances their interior spaces.

GNU collaborated with the local project architects, Lauck Group. The GNU team immersed themselves in the City, engaged with the Atlassian stakeholders, collaborated with the architect and gained a special understanding of what makes Austin, Austin.

“It was important for Atlassian to display its Corporate Brand in our new Austin office while infusing the space with a unique local flair. The GNU Group worked seamlessly with our entire team to understand how graphics and signage could reinforce the Austin office’s character and culture. Their solutions are highly creative and work amazingly well in our interiors.” – Eric Nelson, Atlassian

A focal point of the program is an interactive company timeline. This kinetic wall includes rotating “pillars” that correspond to years, past and present, which not only depict Atlassian’s corporate history, but also provides glimpses into its future. When aligned, the pillars present a dramatic view of Austin’s skyline. Click here to see a video of the wall in action.  As well as providing a dynamic backdrop, the timeline it is an important tool to introduce new employees to the company’s legacy.

Beyond the timeline, GNU also designed the facility’s signage program, from a large wooden logo that floats above one of the common areas, to servery graphics calling out “snacklassian” and “eatlassian”, to the room identification signs.  Local firms including Building Image Group (BIG) fabricated and installed the program.



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Conserving Water – One Sign at a Time

Published on: May 26, 2015 by Rich Burns

WV Blog


Through 40 years of practice in California we’ve seen our share of droughts. Governor Brown’s recent mandate for a 25% cut in water use makes the new entry to West Valley College in Saratoga not only a bold new image, but also an investment in environmental sustainability.

The team of TLCD Architecture, Quadriga Landscape Architects and GNU Group were intent on creating a powerful environmental brand for the college while replacing water hungry turf with a drought resistant landscape.

The 60 foot long main sign and the two electronic displays boldly express West Valley College’s brand and incorporate a fresh approach to the campus’ trademark oak leaf logo. The sculptural leaf elements float in front of sign surface adding sculptural form to the monuments. The signs are fabricated of self-healing, earth tone Cor-Ten steel and merge seamlessly with the drought tolerant landscaping and the storm water recharge basin at the base of the site.

The two electronic displays not only announce campus events, but are programmed with rotating inspirational messages such as – Grow, Collaborate, Success. Scott Ludwig, WVC Director of Communications and Technology, explains, “Students now walk up to me and spontaneously exclaim “Collaborate!”- taking their cues from the reader boards.”

Quadriga aided the school in creating an “Oak Nursery” that surrounds the new entry signs. These newly planted trees will be used to replace the many Oaks surrounding the campus that are reaching the end of their life cycle. Along with the nursery, two historic Palm trees were relocated to the area. The Palms were originally planted near the farmhouse that once stood where the campus is today.

“The multiple challenges of transforming this important space, including sensitivity and commitment to the environmental concerns, made working with this team and the college an especially rewarding experience,” explains Dickson Keyser, GNU’s Director of Design. “The new entry is an important affirmation of how design can solve a number of problems.”

“The campus and nearby community has taken notice of the change and is appreciative of the dynamism of the statement. Over time, as they discover the other elements, it will become an even richer experience” -Alan Butler, TLCD

California’s drought is serious. Click here for water conservation tips.


GNU’s Sign Profile Analysis™

Published on: April 9, 2015 by Phil Murphy

SPA blog 1

The Sign Profile Analysis™ is the first step in a comprehensive process that we call the Sign System Navigator™. It defines all of the requirements for creating a complete signage program, including how to incorporate branding, the wayfinding strategy, the project needs, sign hierarchy, messages, locations, quantities and much more. The following are among the many issues that are resolved during the SPA™.

FUNCTION: How signs provide direction, information, and identification to make environments easy to navigate.

What’s the wayfinding strategy?

How many message types?

How many signs?

Where do they go?

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AESTHETICS: How signs contribute to the visual of the environment with appropriate forms, materials, and graphics.

What are the architectural, interior, landscape and other environmental features that should influence design?

COMPLIANCE: How the design solution assures that facilities meet all code and ordinance requirements.

What are the codes and ordinances that need to be met?

Who are the jurisdictions and agencies that need to pass judgment?

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OPERATIONS: How the system will accommodate the costs, life cycle, maintenance, and other considerations.

Who will install?

Who will maintain?

How often do things change?

How long do they need to last?

Can they be ‘green’?

Can they be changed in house?

What’s the reorder process?

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IMAGE/BRANDING/MARKETING: How signs support the client’s brand and visual identity.

How will you present your brand?

How will the signs contribute to marketing?

As we work through theses issues for you, we establish budget estimates, and we identify a high & low price for what each sign type might cost. Add them up and you are in a position to know exactly where you want to go to add value to your property and maximize your users/ customer experience.

We take this approach because, like a house or a car, the cost depends on the details. When we’re done with SPA™ our client’s have everything they need to know to make informed decisions about allocating budgets and how to deal with pre-construction issues in order to avoid costly change orders.

Our next step is to design to the criteria established in the SPA™. We can guarantee that the cost of the signs will meet the budget. How do we do that? Well, we’ve been at this for 40 years, we know what things costs. We have great fabrication partners that we turn to when we need additional confirmation of prices and you’ve given us the direction we need to be strategic in our creativity.

And the insight to produce a targeted, creative and highly functional solution and the result is signage that precisely meets your needs. dom information

GNU Surveyor™

Published on: March 9, 2015 by Martin Kindred


Consolidation, reconfiguring and repositioning facilities posed a unique challenge when renovations to existing facilities are required. A huge benefit to GNU’s client’s in all market segments was realized when we developed the GNU Surveyor Application.

Changes to facilities always means creating new wayfinding, orientation and environmental branding programs. The first step in developing a new program is inventorying the existing facilities to understand what stays, what goes and what must be altered. Historically this meant photographing each location, taking measurements, noting requirements for placement, lighting and legibility, and identifying any restrictions needing mitigation. It took a keen eye, photos, measurements, drawings and notes on each location, along with a great deal of patience. domain names

When we were commissioned to develop a new wayfinding and signage program for Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals (TJUH) in Philadelphia we realized the programming would involve over 10,000 sign locations located in 8 buildings (2 million square feet).

GNU has considerable experience with these types of surveys.  We would dispatch a team armed with cameras, tape measures, plan drawings, laptops and note paper. They would return with piles of documentation, photos keyed to drawings, notes scribbled on drawings and dictated observations.  But managing in the field was tedious and correlating and collating the results was like assembling a gigantic jigsaw puzzle.

We decided there must be a better way.  The response to this challenge resulted in GNU Surveyor™, a proprietary iPhone application that allows all information to be aggregated in the field. All photos, measurements, location plans and specifications are instantly linked. Compared to the ‘old way,’ GNU Surveyor™, reduced time in the field by 50% and a comparable amount for processing the information. Accuracy was commensurately improved as was the ease of managing 19,476 photos and 75 gigabytes of data.

Once back in the office, we review the photos and locations to identify missing signs or those that need removal. Modifying data in a multi-table database (rather than dots in Illustrator™ and records in Filemaker™), means we can automatically generate all documentation. Any edits are instantly updated. Delete a location and the associated signs are removed. vacation planner We knew GNU Surveyor™, would save time, but the accuracy of the information is an equal benefit.

GNU Surveyor™ proved its value at TJUH. Since then we employ the process on every project that requires an inventory of existing conditions. All projects, small and large profit from the program. As we have further refined the program, the savings in time have increased.

Healthcare Wayfinding, It’s about behavior, not signs

Published on: February 9, 2015 by Andrea Guzman


The problem is very clear – too many people are getting lost finding their way in health care facilities. The knee jerk response – “we need a new wayfinding program” or, “we need more signs.” The implication is that the solution is about hardware. It’s an interesting anomaly at a time when the health care industry has become so focused on behavior, both users and employees, when addressing most other aspects of health care facility design, management and delivery.

Health care facilities are complex environments where users are typically experiencing inordinate levels of stress. Adding more words, on more plaques in more places will most likely compound the problems. hosting information The real challenge is to better understand how a patient or visitor receives information about their pending doctor appointment, medical procedure or other interaction with the facility.

Wayfinding, and the signs that guide people to their destinations, must be a part of the total healthcare experience. Alan Jacobson, president of ex;it, an east coast environmental design consulting firm and long time strategic partner of the GNU Group, has captured the concept with exceptional clarity in his Touchpoints of a Visit to the Doctor. GNU embraces this strategic approach and it has resulted in significant breakthroughs when strategizing wayfinding goals for our clients. Ex;it’s Health Care Journey diagram shows the integration of all of the components of an effective wayfinding program including physical elements, communications and human interaction. There is no question that this multi-faceted approach is the way that healthcare facilities will be making sure that getting lost is a thing of the past.

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