modern commercial building exterior design

The Best Landmarking Concepts for Modern Commercial Building Exterior Design For 2020

Published on: October 1, 2019

One of the most challenging aspects of modern commercial building exterior design is accurately reflecting your company’s particular brand identity in only a few moments. People only spend so much time walking or driving by your building, so ensuring your signage and graphics differentiate your building from the competition is crucial. Savvy companies are managing this by treating their exterior signage as more than just urban wayfinding signage. They are branded assets. 

Landmarking with branded architectural signage is a mission-critical component of commercial building exterior design. It encourages brand recognition and space-familiarity. Using memorable design helps to anchor your location in a people’s minds and can even serve as an amenity that attracts people to your building. 

Top 3 Examples of Modern Commercial Building Exterior Design Excellence

What turns a simple exterior building sign or monument into a branded asset? That’s the ability to use your signage as a value-add amenity. Your outdoor signage and graphics can give individuals a sneak peek of what to expect inside your building. With intuitive, human-centric design, you have the opportunity to establish brand recognition—and affinity—before they even enter your building. 

Here are three modern commercial exterior building designs that you can use as inspiration to model your own project.  

Connect exterior signage elements with the interior design

Exterior signage is more of a challenge logistically than interior signage as you’re likely dealing with some municipal codes that limit your options. City codes and regulations will often require you to put signs in certain spaces, use specific colors, or stay within preset dimensions. These restrictions make it a challenge to create a commercial design idea that draws attention to your specific location while communicating your brand. 

But, by partnering early on with an expert design firm who has a handle on local signage requirements—and some creative flair—you can achieve top-notch results. This was the case at 680 Folsom St. in San Francisco. The signage location was only a small section of a much larger commercial building, which made highlighting this particular space a challenge. 

modern commercial building exterior design

To do so, the signage design firm connected the interior design to the planned exterior look by taking inspiration from the lighting just behind the glass entrance. The monument was built with push through numerals and was internally illuminated, framing the numbers in the sign to provide some depth. Finally, a “680” graphic was etched into the stone facade behind the sign, reinforcing the signage visual. The result is a memorable landmark at the building’s entrance that draws visitors inside to experience the cohesive corporate brand.

Use digital signage to bring your exterior to life 

Dynamic signs with digital elements can be an excellent way to drive interest and establish a company’s brand, especially in fast-paced sectors like technology or finance. These signs are especially useful when you want to convey not just the brand but also share what the company does. It’s part of a comprehensive visual brand strategy.

Ticker tape, used to monitor the rise and fall of share prices in real-time, is a familiar symbol for the stock market—and Nasdaq. When designing exterior signage at the Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center in San Francisco after a fresh rebrand, the team leveraged this key visual brand elements as their landmarking concept. 

modern commercial building exterior design

Since digital signage is difficult to implement outdoors, the ticker was mounted inside the building and positioned facing out into the street. This positioning also allowed Nasdaq to highlight its primary sign, which featured built-up letters in the brand’s signature blue and white colors as well as its logo, accented in eye-catching silver. Between the ticker tape and the logo, it’s unlikely that anyone who has ever seen this particular location will forget it. 

Treat signage as eye-catching art 

Commercial signage should be more than just functional. It can also become a piece of art that interests individuals and adds excitement to public spaces. Sculptural designs can do just that. When done extremely well, these features can even help companies expand their reach in the digital space.  

modern commercial building exterior design for San Francisco companies

The One CA building in Downtown San Francisco leveraged this concept by creating a major landmark with the vertically-lettered “ONE” sculpture stationed on a multi-tiered platform in the front courtyard. The nontraditional massing of the letters on the near 20-foot sign draws the eye and encourages people to congregate around it during the day. 

The sign is such a unique eye-catcher, visitors post images of themselves standing in front of it on sites like Pinterest and Instagram. People see photos of this unique piece of art and become intrigued to learn more about the building and its businesses. The artistic design of the element has become an iconic landmark that people go out of their way to visit when in the area. 

Navigating the Municipal Roadblocks in Exterior Signage

All of the previous commercial building design examples came from San Francisco, California, which is an area with some extremely stringent signage restrictions. Permits are required for almost anything to do with installing, replacing and even relocating exterior signage. This is not unusual in any large metro area where property values must be protected. Being able to navigate these signage restrictions is a complex process where experience can mean the difference between a successful commercial building exterior design and a huge waste of time and money. 

It’s crucial that you partner with a design firm that has a thorough understanding of the codes in your area prior to embarking on any modern commercial building exterior design project. An expert signage design firm can help you understand not just the limitations, but also the complex requirements for getting permits to put in new signage in the first place. The best way to turn your exterior signage and graphics into branded assets is to work with a company who understands both the logistical—and artistic—needs of such projects. 


If you’re navigating the complex process of modern commercial building exterior design in California, GNU Group can help. With over 40 years’ experience managing projects in multiple municipalities, we know how to provide the aesthetic design you need to highlight your brand while also handling the logistics with minimal disruptions. For more information, connect with our team.