The Total Language of a Sign

The total language of a sign – not only what it communicates but how it communicates – must be considered for signage to be maximally effective. There are multiple components which make up the total language of a sign and must be considered by designers and manufacturers to properly execute a spatial vision for their clients.

Before we consider what components go into the language of a sign, we must first consider the purpose of a sign or signage system. Different signage elements combine to assist the primary functions of orientation and information. Signs orient and they inform. They organize spaces, clarify one’s sense of direction, and help determine both the flow and behaviour of users within an environment. When signage is standardized to a specific communicative language, it brings visual harmony to a larger space, as well as coherence. This coherence affords users a sense of comfort by providing them with readable information, understandable by all. They will feel welcomed and structured within a space, contributing to their sense of personal security.

In order to create this sense of personal security, the total language of a sign must communicate effectively. This means that users of your space should be able to read, absorb and use the message of your signage instantly.

Total signage language includes the following elements:

  • Content: Once a client is attracted to a sign, it must communicate something to them. This can be done through language most readily; however, language should be kept simple, concise and to the point. Wordy signs that use too much jargon will be immediately dismissed as clients seek out simpler, usable information about the environment.
  • Graphics: If your sign does not use written language, it might use graphics to communicate a message. These could be directional cues (in the case of arrows) or identification images (figures to signify the function of a certain space). These should follow universal images wherever possible as users will come to expect certain methods of graphic communication. New imagery can confuse how they interact with your space.
  • Shape: The shape of a sign should be intuitive. This is not always as straight-forward as it sounds and includes considerations about the environment in which a sign appears, what other design elements are around and what is appearing on the sign itself. Oftentimes, the simpler the design is, the better it functions so keep shapes straightforward according to your needs.
  • Colour: Colour can be very helpful for communicating information about your brand or for separating regions within a larger architectural space, particularly when different areas are marked for different functions or services. Colour can also be detrimental to a sign if it makes language difficult to read or graphics difficult to see. Pick appropriate colours to communicate most effectively.
  • Location: Of course, where a sign is placed is part of its overall language. People have come to expect that signs (particularly directional signs) appear in certain places such as overhead, before rounding corners, or in front of elevators. Follow these standardized placements to make sure your sign is seen and communicates most effectively.
  • Lighting: Signage lighting is crucially important because it ensures that all of the thought you have put into your sign is worth it in the end because, ultimately, the sign can be seen. Lighting can include design elements within the sign itself (whether using front or back lit letters or lightboxes) or can be part of the architectural design of a room (in the case of spotlighting a sign). Either way, visibility is a major consideration in the total language of a sign and ultimately allows it to fully communicate.


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A Perfect Blend of Artisanal Work and Technology

A long legacy of experience in artisanal work and techniques is only as good as it is adaptable. These days, being adaptable means incorporating technology in ways that streamline processes and increase quality and efficiency without affecting the craftsmanship of the final product.

Behrends Group has a combined experience of at least 205 years in our foundry alone and these experts use the human touch and eye to execute every project to the highest standard of perfection. Having long-standing employees – many of whom have devoted their entire career to working with Behrends Group – means that the creative possibilities are endless. By having a strong foundation of knowledge and experience, such a team is better able to push the limits of what can be done with the designs and the materials at hand.

At the same time as this experience is central to the quality of products we offer, being at the forefront of technological innovation has always factored heavily into our work as well. Our design team is proficient at using the best technology to craft designs (whether two-dimensional drawings or three-dimensional renderings) that will exceed your expectations. Our fabrication team uses all kinds of advanced machinery as well as 3D printing and other innovative techniques. Finally, our installation –team uses the best tools of the trade and know-how about environmental factors and material quality to ensure that what we have spent time designing and developing also looks its absolute best.

This perfect balance of knowledge-keeping and experience while being open to new innovations sets Behrends apart. It is easy for other companies to replicate where we are at with technology, but without the advanced repertoire we have accumulated over the years, testing and crafting every type of project imaginable, there are still limits on the possibility of both signage design and execution. We have said it before and we will say it again: Every sign is a learning situation and, at Behrends, we love to be pioneers in the industry, pushing the boundaries of what is possible while delivering high-quality, custom signage every time.

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The Versatility of a Plaque


At Behrends Foundry, we have manufactured countless plaques over the years. We have seen the humble plaque be used in innumerable creative ways and have always been impressed by the diversity of options and versatility that it provides. We started our business with plaques and know that there are many application it can be made to serve. The following list is just some of the ways that we have seen plaques used over the years – and believe us, it is not exhaustive!
Address Plaques: Custom address plaques are part of the finishing touches of one’s exterior home. Address plaques offer a timeless look with outstanding quality metals that withstand the most extreme of weather conditions. Whether you have built your dream home, have just purchased your forever home or are looking to upgrade the appearance of the home you have lived in for years, address plaques are a simple way to add stylish flair to your home’s exterior – flair that reflects your individual tastes and what kind of statement you want your home to make about you and your family.
Donor Recognition: Donor recognition walls are a growing trend for non-profit, non-governmental and governmental organizations alike. When funding or volunteer labour for a project comes from external donors, particularly in the launching of a project, it has become customary to designate prominent space in offices and facilities as a way to show gratitude. Plaques are wonderful, permanent and lasting way to commemorate those who contributed so much to your organization.
Historical Markers/Interpretive Panels: Panels are ideal for any type of interpretive exhibit where patrons will be in need of guidance as to the purpose of the exhibit or the history relevant to that space. Excellent quality ones tend to combine imaginative text, rich design and evocative imagery to make a place come alive to patrons who visit there. Rather than only containing information such as directions or instructions, interpretive panels create an individual’s sense of historical presence or contemporary legacy. Some of the most prominent panels are those which are plaques cast in bronze because this metal lends a strong presence to these pieces and can accumulate natural patinas with time, giving the viewer a sense of historicity and cultural longevity.
Tree Markers: Tree plaques are a great way commemorate any number of occasions that require a sense of permanence while also keeping a memory alive. Tree plaques are small markers placed next to tree is public parks and places in order to remind patrons of events that took place there, important individuals within the community, or for families to memorialize the life of a loved one who has since passed. Behrends Group was commissioned to create plaques for trees in the Athlete’s Village during the Pan Am/Parapan Am Games. A plaque was made for each of the 41 trees along with a larger main plaque that identified the area and purpose of the project, which was translated into English, French, Spanish and Braille.
Bench Dedication: Spring and summer are the seasons of outdoor fun and whether we end up hitting the trails or soaking in the sun at a park, there will always be benches around for us to take a rest on and soak up the sun. Some people have memorialized loved ones through plaques on benches that are found on trails they used to enjoy walking on. Bench plaques are also a great way to commemorate important community individuals, organizations or historical events.
Grave Markers: Personalized memorial plaques from Behrends Group stand the test of time and all the elements. They deliver your loved ones’ message to future generations who will pay their respects and for others who want to learn something about those who came before us. The longevity of our medium (cast bronze) combined with the content you and your loved one desire will create a meaningful message for everyone involved.
Urn Gardens: Urn burial plots usually have space enough for two urns and a headstone, and can be arranged in a number of ways. Once the urns are buried, the plot may be marked with a commemorative plaque, headstone, sculpture or monument. These pieces are of incredible importance to loved ones revisiting the site, and should portray perfectly the legacy of the deceased. This may be in the form of a cherished quote, an embossed favourite photograph, or signature artistic designs – any trademark aspects of your loved one that will forever capture their spirit and remind visitors of the joy that they brought to the world.
Stable Signage: At Behrends Group, we love being trusted with honouring your special relationship with your horse and recommend bronze plaques produced in our foundry to enhance the prestige and honour of your stable’s appearance. We specialize in stable signage, including branding (if it is a business for you!) and nameplates for every horse under your care. In the sad event that a horse passes on, we are also honoured to take care of his or her memorial plaques to pay tribute to your companionship.
Other applications include place markers, trophies and awards, restaurant, hotel and other service-industry signage. Ultimately the possibilities with plaques are almost limitless. If you want durability, beauty and to create a sense of true legacy, we are happy to consult with you for your custom plaque needs.

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Donor Recognition Systems: More Than Just Saying “Thanks”

Donor recognition walls are a growing trend for non-profit, non-governmental and governmental organizations alike. When funding or volunteer labour for a project comes from external donors, particularly in the launching of a project, it has become customary to designate prominent space in offices and facilities as a way to show gratitude. These walls tend to be a stylistic opportunity to recognize those important to the organization while being a beautiful addition to the environment.

Gratitude and style are not the only reasons for commissioning donor recognition systems for your space. Inspiration, commitment and awareness are also outcomes of effective systems. It is important to recognize that even though the intention behind them is recognition, like all signage, these systems communicate something about your organization. Because they occupy prominent and foremost positions in the visual landscape of your building, it is important to carefully consider what message you are sending. These systems must be attractive, engaging, technologically advanced and professional – qualities that your brand emulates in order to inspire confidence in your donors, from the past and in the future.

A combination of sources reveals that the best donor recognition systems should include the following elements to be successful.


Adequate gratitude – Making contributors feel appreciated is the primary reason for employing a visible recognition system.

Flexibility – If you are going to recognize contributors to your organization, you should be prepared and able to give thanks to all of them whether they are donors, volunteers, staff and so forth.

Accommodation – Excellent recognition systems offer the ability to add to them over time. Good designs will have this capability built-in to avoid the future disaster of not being able to add contributors.

Updating Capabilities – Some recognition systems have space allocated to updating donors on how their contributions have made a difference. If this is a one-time deal, this can be a permanent part of your regular display.

Challenges Beyond recognition, inspiration is a key priority of these systems. Depending on how things are laid out, the end result should be encouraging to future donors, inspiring them to match or exceed the giving of their peers.

Naming opportunities – If there have been substantial contributions made by a regular, major donor, there should be the opportunity for naming those contributors in a prominent way.

High-Profile Publicity – Where you put your donor recognition system and how it fits into the environment around it changes its profile level. For contributors, it is likely very important that their name appear in high-traffic, high-visibility spaces.

Marketing and Outreach – If donor recognition systems do not double as recruiting tools for future contributors, they are not doing their job.

Technology – In some cases, the addition of technological components might be of interest to certain organizations. These components offer the following benefits: appealing to a wider demographic audience, the possibility of regular updates and added information, the appearance of modern tools to increase the prestige of your organization, and the ability to combine the display with Web-based recognition systems.

When your recognition system comes from Behrends, you have the opportunity to include the latest, cutting-edge technology into your display. Over the years, we have been involved in the design and fabrication of hundreds of recognition systems and as our clients’ organizations have grown, so too have the number of people they need to recognize. Versatile technology or “digital media content management” is our innovative solution to making static displays dynamic and adaptable to your changing needs. Large-scale LED screens can fit seamlessly into the look of your display giving you the capability to expand what you want to say through cloud-based, touch-screen technology. As Behrends is a licensed dealer of Wondersign technology, working with us allows you to maximize your display space by using the power of the “endless display”.

In coming to Behrends Group for your donor recognition system needs, you are employing the skills and talents of a diverse group of professionals who have made a name for themselves in this niche part of the industry. We have years of experience with hundreds of large-scale projects for some of the most prominent institutions in Canada including the University of Alberta, the Royal Alexandra Hospital, the TELUS World of Science, the University of Arizona, Rundle College, and many others. Our innovative designs and unparalleled fabrication techniques blend creativity, tradition, and modernity into brilliant final products that will exceed the expectations of you and your contributors. Finally, at Behrends Group, we are grateful to our clients from all walks of life, and showing their gratitude through beautiful recognition systems is one of our most rewarding business endeavours.


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3D Printing

At Behrends Group, we keep on top of the latest technological innovations to keep our products and processes both cutting-edge and the highest quality. Nowhere has innovation been more key as in the realm of 3D printing and its applications to our custom signage industry.

3D printing is the process of manufacturing solid objects from the creation of a computer-generated 3D file. The printing of such objects is done through an additive process, meaning that the material is successively layered again and again until the final project is created. Each of the layers functions as a horizontal cross-section of the overall finished product. It all starts with the virtual design of what you want to make, whether that be the creation of a new design or a scanned copy of another object. 3D modeling software then takes the design and slices it into thousands of those horizontal cross-sections which are each uploaded to the 3D printer. The printer reads each slice (as a 2D image) and then creates the layers that build up into an object with barely noticeable transitions between layers.

3D printers differ by way of their use of technology but virtually all of them employ this additive method. In terms of its application to the signage industry, nowhere is its potential felt more than in bronze casting. Typically, in terms of sculpture, a clay model is crafted first and is what the end-product will be formed from. A mold created from the clay picks up all of its subtle details and is applied in layers to capture the original surface.

3D printing eliminates the need to sculpt with clay by allowing for the design and creation of a model to be created in a completely digital process. The model is printed, then fitted with a silicone rubber exterior molding before being cast in bronze, as usual. The 3D printed model is lost in the process, just as the clay sculptures are lost in the traditional method. What remains is a beautiful, highly-detailed bronze sculpture that originated entirely from a professional designer’s imagination and vision. This need not only be applicable to sculpture but can revolutionize other bronze casting such as plaques and interpretive signage.

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Firefighters Have Always Been Alberta’s Heroes

With the devastating wildfires that ripped across the province of Alberta last month, firefighters have reached hero status as they battle the blazes. Small cities like Fort McMurray and High Level faced total evacuation and much property damage has occurred. And yet, if it were not for Alberta firefighters, the

With the devastating wildfires that ripped across the province of Alberta last month, firefighters have reached hero status as they battle the blazes. Small cities like Fort McMurray and High Level faced total evacuation and much property damage has occurred. And yet, if it were not for Alberta firefighters, the response to the emergency might have been far different and even more devastating. Ready to race into the danger zones without a second thought, firefighters have come to symbolize true bravery, courage and self-sacrifice.

Firefighters have always been Alberta’s heroes and nowhere is this truer than in the City of Edmonton where a group called the Edmonton Firefighters Memorial Society has sought to memorialize fallen firefighters since 1997. According to the association’s mandate, the society rose from a desire to recognize those members of the Edmonton Fire Department who had given the supreme sacrifice in the service of the citizens of Edmonton.

Members of the Edmonton Fire Department were instrumental in helping to control the blaze that threatened to engulf all of Fort McMurray and devastated over 2400 architectural structures in the city. Luckily, all of the firefighters made it out without being harmed.

For anyone passing by the Edmonton Firefighters Memorial Plaza, located at 10350 – 83 Avenue, the statue entitled “The Rescue” – which depicts the rescue of a young girl whose home is on fire – cannot help but serve as a stark reminder of the recent heroism of firefighters in this province today.

Behrends Group is honoured to help keep the memory of Edmonton’s fallen firefighters alive by fabricating the statue for the plaza, designed by artist Danec Mozdanski, and producing the plaques which name those who have fallen. At the same time, our work in the plaza serves as a reminder of those brave individuals who continue to rush into the face of uncertainty for the sake of helping others.

Firefighters have always been Alberta’s heroes. This past month, which showed some of the worst wildfire battles in Canadian history, proves that places like the Edmonton Firefighters Memorial Plaza matter and belong at the center of a community’s memory. We are proud to have created the space for such an honour.


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