Walk through any entrance to the Bell Works building in Holmdel, NJ, and there’s a reason to stop and stare. It’s gorgeous. All of it. Every square inch.

In fact, Bell Works is a little bigger than an inch. It’s 2 million square feet of stunning, iconic architectural design in glass, steel and concrete, with six floors including a lower level and a terrace overlooking an engineered lake. And every day, more and more people walk through one of the building’s three public entrances, arriving via one of two main roads and parking in one of four parking lots that encircle the mid-century masterpiece designed by Eero Saarinen.

Yes. Bell Works is a BIG place and for a newcomer navigating it can be confusing, but moving through the metroburb is about to get a lot easier thanks to a new wayfinding program by Via Collective.

Wayfinding is absolutely the on-the-nose term for how people navigate built spaces — how humans ‘find their way’. Katie Osborn, Principal & Wayfinding Strategist of Via Collective sums up the concept, “Ultimately, wayfinding is not about signage at all. It’s about the bigger picture of how people experience a building. It’s really about designing an experience that prioritizes each person’s agenda within the building, helping them navigate their experiences in a space in an easy and thoughtful way.”

“Diagramming the traffic from how people enter to how they exit Bell Works, allows us to understand all the decisions drivers will need to make, including various destinations within Bell Works, to which road they need to exit. The color coded signs of the parking lots, related to the buildings, will assist people in navigating the complex.”  – Katie Osborn, Principal & Wayfinding Strategist of Via Collective

Commercial and retail tenants,  customers, community members and special event guests all have their own reasons for being in the building, and Osborn and her team have designed a system that will serve the varying needs of all these different groups. “We needed to acknowledge right away that though Ralph (Zucker) was preserving the historic character of the building, it’s no longer home to one, corporate entity,’ says Osborn. “Bell Works is a new thing, a new community and an employee at Trendsetter or WorkWave has different wayfinding needs than someone attending a tech conference or having a lunch and shopping date with an out-of-town friend.”

Ralph Zucker, President of Somerset Development and the visionary behind the metroburb in 2016, hired Via Collective after a series of conversations with his Creative Director, Paola Zamudio, of NPZ Style + Decor. Zamudio impressed upon Zucker the need for a wayfinding system that not only honors the mid-century design elements of the building and works with the aesthetic character but also was grounded in a strategy that could help the thousands of visitors that are expected to flow through it’s doors each year. Since coming on board, Via Collective has become a part of the larger Bell Works team, including Zamudio, Mancini Duffy, IA Interior Architects, and Alex Gorlin, senior architect for the project.

“The first question we ask when we start a project is, Who is going to use the space?,” Osborn said.

Osborn sees her role as practical and interpretive, building on the work of the architects and designers. “If I do my job well, no one knows I did my job,” Osborn said. “Signs should look like a part of the building — reflecting the branding, colors, and architectural features. The wayfinding features shouldn’t look like they’ve been imposed on the building, but as if they’ve grown out naturally from the building.”

After extensive consultation and research, Via Collective designed a wayfinding strategy that assigns a color code to each of the four buildings, corresponding to the primary brand color of each of the four anchor tenants: Workwave  – turquoise; JCP&L  – purple; iCIMS – red; and Guardian – yellow. Throughout the building, including at the elevator banks and each of the different entrances, visitors and building tenants will see this color theme used consistently to reassure people they are in the right place. “The goal is for people to feel confident about the direction they’re going. We want them to be focused on their destination and the goal of their visit, not how they’re getting there,” Osborn said.

Wayfinding is not about signage at all. It’s about the bigger picture of how people experience a building.

In addition to signage, there will multiple points of reference with different options for digital interaction such as kiosks at every entrance as well as human customer service teams at strategic locations.  This mix of wayfinding techniques, including digital interactive maps and a complete online component that connects through Google, acknowledges that people understand and process information differently. The best wayfinding, Osborn says, allows people to access information in a format and experience that’s meaningful to them.

“The first question we ask when we start a project is, Who is going to use the space? Aesthetic is important as it’s connected to the brand and the architectural features of the building and complex, but ultimately, for wayfinding to work, we need to know things like, How many destinations will a typical visitor or occupant make during their stay? What modes of transportation are they using to get there and even once they get there? What’s the path of travel?”

Bell Works recently received approval from Holmdel Township for the signage that will mark the entrances to the campus from the road — the last hurdle before beginning full implementation of the wayfinding program. Although the program will be implemented on a rolling basis, Osborn expects that the entire project, from fabricating and installing signage to hiring and training customer service team will take about a year.

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