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Designing Award-Winning Signs: Creating Specifications Charts

Specification charts can be a useful tool if done properly

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Your salesperson is excited about the new set of channel letters being installed for the customer today. There was a bit of confusion during the final color selection process. There were three blue colors that the customer wanted to look at. Finally, they chose a color that they felt most accurately matched their corporate color. Unfortunately, in spite of the salesperson’s efforts to get the revision made on the master drawing file, the specifications listed on the shop drawing never got updated with the correct color that was reflected on the signed and approved PDF. As a result, the letter set was built with the wrong color of blue. Now what? 

Fixing the sign is the first challenge, but stopping these mistakes from occurring in the future is most important if you want to avoid this in the future. How you manage the specifications details can make all the difference in a profitable vs. costly project.

Whether it’s for the initial presentation, the estimation files or the final shop drawings, specification charts can be a useful tool, or a complete waste of time and energy. Consistency and a team approach is the key to a functional, useful specifications chart. Determining which process works best for your company is the first step.

A Systematic Approach to Specifications

How much detailing do you provide on initial concept illustrations? 

How about estimation files or fabrication files? 

Are there specifics to clarify exactly what is needed, or are they vague and kind of disorganized? 

Developing a system of specifications management is important so that everyone involved in the presentation, estimation and fabrication process not only understands the specifications chart, but also knows where to look to find the info they need.

The best place to start the specifications process is to examine your team’s needs, wants and desires for the successful management of these critical elements. In regard to the initial design illustration, does your design team put together full-detail specifications that call out vinyl colors, paint codes and material thicknesses, or do they generalize the specifications list and fill in the blanks

later? Which method is better? Which method is the most fool-proof? 

The Full Specification Method

Some companies like to start out with specifications that are absolutely complete and reflective of every element of the sign at the first initial concept illustration (See illustration A). Because every detail is listed, they must now be managed all the way through the entire process. If the client decides to make color changes early on, especially subtle ones, these revisions could possibly

be missed prior to fabrication.

“I don’t like that darker blue color. Can we change it to something lighter?” Which is a relatively common request. How do you plan on adjusting that detail in such a way as to carry across on all of the future drawings? Do you change it by hand on the paper drawing, or electronically on the pdf, or do you send the designer an email? What is your process for managing a specification

detail change?

These details must be managed and revised on the master file as the job progresses. Not a problem if you have a process outlined and it works well within your company. If you don’t have a process in place and you’ve struggled with these types of errors, now is the time to review it and create a process that everyone can follow.

The “Spec as You Go” Method

Other companies use the “spec the file as you go” method where all specifications are initially generalized until the customer gives you a final approval on the job. (See illustration B) Once the client approved the drawing, then the paint and vinyl color specs can be added.

Presenting initial concepts with generalized details allows the salesperson to present the idea to the customer without the fear of a specification change. At this point, the changes to color and other specifications can be discussed and revised without the fear of remembering to make a color change on the drawing later down the road.  

Management of the specification details is all about the process you have. If you have steps and or landing points where changes made to the project can be updated on the original master file, then all is good. If you have an overall company-wide understanding that details are always generalized, and final specs are added only after the customer has approved everything, then there

are no surprises down the line. This doesn’t mean that some of the specifications, like vinyl colors, aren’t already on the drawing, it simply means that everyone involved in the process is on the same page and they look elsewhere for the color, vinyl and paint specs.

It’s all about the team understanding up front that details like colors and paint will not be included until the customer approves the job. Naturally, there are always exceptions to the rule, and in the case of HOAs, shopping center criteria and historic preservation committees, these details must be included up front. Naturally, these situations must be handled on an individual basis.

Regardless of the way the specifications are ultimately handled, always remember that the devil is in the details so pay close attention to them, regardless of how they are provided or listed on the drawing. But most importantly, make sure your team is on the same page regarding the details needed for the job, and where they should look for them.

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Matt Charboneau

Since 1985, Matt Charboneau has owned and operated Charboneau Signs in Loveland, Colorado. He is a consultant and designer for monument, channel letter and pylon sign projects. His book, "The Pre-Sale Sign Survey Field Guide - The how-to guide on sign surveys for the professional sign salesperson" can be ordered on his website: www.CharboneauSigns.com or by emailing him at Matt@charboneausigns.com.

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