Branding your values

The architect of Entering into a joint venture with Canada-based Entro, a world leader in environmental graphic design, Easyway Design from Ajit Khimji Group seeks to explore a unique signage and wayfinding strategy for the Sultanate. Wayne McCutcheon, Partner, Entro who visited Muscat recently feels that the city has to develop effective visual communication methods, chiming in with its geographical, archeological and cultural identity. Excerpts from an interview with Muhammed Nafie .

What brings Entro to Oman and how is your partnership with Easyway going to unfold?

We’ve been talking with Easyway for quite some time to bring this joint venture into fruition. Entro is an international environmental communications firm which plans, designs and executes visual communications in the built environment for a wide range of clients around the world, while Easyway has a great local presence, being part of Ajit Khimji group. The partnership is bound to be very successful as it effects a unique combination of Entro’s expertise and knowledge base and Easyway’s strong resource base in Oman.

Ajit Khimji Group has a long presence in Muscat and that will bring incredible value to our team. We feel that there is a tremendous opportunity to improve signage and wayfinding in Oman, especially in Muscat. I have met and held discussions with several parties concerned such as the ministries, the municipality and tourism departments and some of the local consultants who all gave us an incredibly warm welcome. We are looking forward to the opportunity of working here. Initially, we are looking to do some branding works and some corporate identity works and a range of other things. In Oman, the entire primary design will be handled by the experts in Entro while Easyway will execute it and do the necessary groundwork.

What brings Entro to Oman and how is your partnership with Easyway going to unfold?

It’s my first visit to Oman and it was a pleasant surprise to see the city. I thought Oman would be almost like the UAE; but it is quite different and unique. While coming from the airport, I could make out that the city was clean and beautiful endowed with stunning landscape, and the buildings were very true to the Middle Eastern heritage. Some cities in UAE look international with glassy skyscrapers, while the city here is true to its origin. Everybody has been so friendly and that is a great experience for us. But on the flipside, although Muscat is beautiful and its people are great, while driving around the city there are no signs to help you find your way around.

As a newcomer to the city I could hardly find proper signage guiding me to where I wanted to go. When I went to some malls, I found that the mall is nice but the signage is terrible. There is so much opportunity in Muscat to bring this expertise to the community and to help do something great with what we do. For this, Easyway is an incredibly important component because of their local expertise and strong local presence.

There are some amazing projects going on in Oman. There are a lot of infrastructure and tourism projects and commercial developments happening in the city. As the country is making a quantum leap in the tourism sector and receiving more and more tourists, it really requires good environmental communications, way finding, branding etc. Muscat has done a great job to make itself unique and different form the rest of the Gulf region, but you have to complement that with good signage as well. Signage is something people really relate to, because if you go to a mall, and try to find the way to a given place and the signage does not get you there, you are frustrated and say I don’t like that place. Many people will have a bad impression of a mall because of its signage, which ought to be designed to directly communicate with the customers and visitors.

How is your presence in other countries in the region?

We have been working for about 12 years in the region and we have done a lot of works in the UAE, Qatar and Kuwait as well. In Qatar, in partnership with a group, we have worked for a lot of projects which include all the signage and wayfinding for Asian Games and several projects for Qatar petroleum. At present we are working for Guggenheim both in Doha and Abu Dhabi in addition to some commercial developments in Abu Dhabi and some office towers. In Kuwait we have done the entire signage for the Avenues Mall, one of the largest malls in the region.

Can you explain Entro’s unique concept of environmental communication?
Being one of the largest firms specialised in environmental graphics in the world, Entro brings together many design disciplines including graphic design, interior design, architecture, industrial design and landscape architecture. These different things have to work together. Our staff group is also exceptionally diverse to meet this requirement. Environmental graphics looks into the wider picture of communicating with people with signage and visuals.

It is meant for directly communicating with the customers and visitors. One has to find the way to wherever he or she wants to go, whether it be a mall, a conventional centre, sport venues or cultural sites such as museum or opera house. And the signage has to tell you what is special about them. Branding is not merely putting the name outside the building but it also has to tell you how it looks stylistically and even to reflect the core beliefs it stands for. If you can create a positive experience thorough signage, you can make a positive experience about the entire building and environment. We don’t manufacture designs. We design the strategy, conceive the design and detail the specifications and help clients to implement them.

What about your international operation and where is your design team based?
Entro was established around 60 years ago in Toronto, Canada where our main office is situated. But mostly we work outside Toronto, with presence in a wide a range of countries from Asia, Middle East, South America and Europe. Outside Canada, we have our office in Zurich in Switzerland as well. Although our creative team is based in Toronto, in order to work for bigger projects we set up temporary offices and station our staff over there, just like we did for Asian Games in Doha.

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