The Long Game: Sarah Phillips

November 1, 2018

Sarah Phillips is director of Picto Sign Solutions, a specialist wayfinding and signage company based at the Toffee Factory in Newcastle. Picto’s work involves the design and installation of effective wayfinding systems using visual cues such as maps, directions, colours and symbols to help people navigate their way through the spaces and places they visit. Sarah established the design-led company in 2002 and works across six key sectors within the built environment, including healthcare, education, living spaces, workplace, and sports facilities. She has worked in the signage industry for nearly 30 years in a career that has included roles with Graphex and The HB Sign Company

When I graduated in 1989 with a degree in Design for Industry from Northumbria University, architectural signage was very different to what it is today. There was certainly no concept of wayfinding.

My first job was as a designer at the Gateshead office of Graphex, where I was appointed to develop new products in a market place where there was little interest in good design.

After intially working with ink and drafting film on a big drawing board, my world was turned upside down the day a box turned up at the office containing a brand new Apple Mac. Being able to experiment with different typefaces and colours with such ease was a real game-changer.

The introduction of The Disability Discrimination Act in 1995 created a fundamental shift in people’s thinking about the accessibility of buildings. All of a sudden, there was a written requirement for buildings to incorporate a set of good practice guidelines for signage.

Projects grew in size and significance, particularly around the turn of the new millennium, with many new public building projects funded by the National Lottery, where signage and wayfinding were considered integral to the projects.

In 2018, clients are much more aware of the benefits of a well-designed and integrated signage scheme for their building projects and this has led to some very exciting projects for us this year.

There is a far better understanding of wayfinding and why it is important for people to be able to navigate their way around spaces with ease. We are now working more closely with clients at the start of new projects, as they recognise the importance of putting high-quality solutions in place from the outset.

While in the early days of Picto it was necessary to undertake a wider range of work, we are now able to operate as a truly niche wayfinding specialist. A better understanding and appreciation of wayfinding is helping us to really make our mark in the industry and showcase our expertise through the delivery of some highly-creative and inspiring projects.

Our recent involvement in the development of four new Rutherford Cancer Centres and the redevelopment of the iconic Spanish City are prime examples of how we can work closely with forward-thinking clients to achieve high-quality results.

The evolving use of technology is a key driver and will continue to have a big impact on the sector. People are increasingly using smart phones for navigation and we will need to integrate more with BIM.

One of the most significant areas of development we foresee is in the need for dementia-friendly solutions across all our sectors and this is an area we are particularly passionate about. Signage has been identified as one of the key areas that can assist those living with dementia to function in the built environment. Our clients are becoming increasingly aware of the need to make appropriate provisions.

We are continually working to build on our experience and knowledge to help clients find new ways to make their wayfinding projects eye-catching, effective and inclusive.

Picto Sign Solutions


1989 – appointed designer, Graphex

1995 – Appointed sales manager at The HB Sign Company

2002 – Established Picto Sign Solutions

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