We caught up with someone with a love and passion for sign-making that runs through their blood
Michelle Henry of Signwise Group, based in New Zealand, is one of the judges for The Sign Awards
EoD Hi Michelle and thanks for taking the time to speak to us. Can you tell us a bit about you – your history in signage and how you ended up in New Zealand?
MH I am a 4th generation signwriter, so grew up on the tools. My earliest memories include cutting up bits of vinyl and sticking them onto my grandparent’s kitchen window. Later, I was encouraged to make my friend’s bedroom door signs, and then finally, I became cheap labour for school holidays and weekends. As my grandparents owned their own business, I covered all areas of the business, vinyl graphics, engraving, screen-printing, sign painting and fabrication.
In 2010 I started my own business (www.hnssigns.co.uk) and won many awards for innovation and craftmanship and had some amazing experiences thanks to organisation like FESPA. After falling in love with New Zealand during a holiday, I made the decision to sell up and make the move down under. Thanks to all the experiences given to me by the UK, finding work here was relatively easy, and I was in the privileged position of being able to pick who I worked for. Wise Studios share my values and are incredibly talented and creative. They are a great fit for me.
EoD How did you end up being a judge for The Sign Awards? What qualities do you bring to the role?
MH I have known Dan Tyler [founder of The Sign Awards] for a long time. I love to help people and have a lot of respect for Dan. He sent me a message saying he needed my help, and when he asked me to be a judge, I was shocked, humbled, and flattered.
The sign industry is quite close-knit and we all know of each other in one way or another. Dan said he follows my achievements and activities through FESPA and on LinkedIn. He thought with my varied skills and extensive understanding and experience of all aspects of the trade. He also wanted the judges to be based outside of the UK so that we were less likely to be biased or unduly influenced. This sounded sensible to me.
As I mentioned, sign-making is in my blood as I am the 4th generation in my family. I have grown up ‘on the tools’, as well as having owned my own sign shop. This has given me a lot of skills which I can draw upon as a judge. I can work out the complexities of each project and see the work involved, as well as gauge its quality. I can take the original brief/concept and really get to the bottom of how well it has been conceptualised.
EoD In general – what makes a good modern sign-maker?
MH There are such a diverse range of skills needed to be a good sign-maker these days. They need to understand the importance of branding and ensure that all sign solutions are designed with that in mind. They should have a good understanding of colour contrasts and viewing distances and have a wide knowledge of materials and substrates so that they can best advise the client.
For me, the best sign-makers will take ownership of a project, be creative and not be afraid to take on new challenges and technologies as well as dabbling with the traditional techniques, which is where our trade started.
EoD What can you say about the range of entries for the awards – in terms of the overall standard, creativity and workmanship?
MH The entries for these awards varied greatly. Normally, you expect to see a trend as sign types come in and out of vogue. But there was very little of that.
It was clear to all of us judges that the calibre of entries was very high. People had clearly poured their heart and soul into these projects. We did need to be strict about the entries though. There was one sign that was a stunning example of craftsmanship, but they had entered it into the wrong category.
Some projects showed real creativity and problem-solving skills. Many of the interior projects showed a flair for design whilst being on-brand and injecting fun into spaces. Another that really wowed me for its creativity was a stunning fusion of traditional and modern with unbelievable levels of attention to detail.
EoD Can you offer any insights into the specific qualities you were looking for when choosing the winner?
MH We were looking to see if the sign was on-brief, how effective it was as a solution (ie, was it visible and on-brief) How was it manufactured? Was it manufactured in the best way (ie, cost-effective, sustainable, and using the correct materials for the environment.) How it fits within its environment. We looked at how many processes were involved and the complexities of the job.
For us, there was one clear winner. From concept to design to fabrication to installation, the project was flawless. The detail was incredible, and we were all wowed by the quality of each process.
EoD What did you enjoy most about being a judge for The Sign Awards?
MH For me, the highlight was seeing how diverse our industry is. It made me proud to see how we are evolving to include a wide range of technologies. Not a single entry was dull. We are more creative and passionate than ever. Our industry really is the best 😊
EoD What would you say to people who might disagree with your decisions?
MH In all honesty, I can see how some people might disagree, but that is our job! It was very tough to decide, and we flipped and flopped as a judging group on many categories. It took many hours of deliberation to choose the winners, but I am confident we chose the right ones. I would encourage companies to take the extra time to submit a presentation as part of their evidence going forward. A few did for these awards, and it definitely helped us to get a better understanding of the project.
EoD Would you do it again?
MH YES!!! Without hesitation. It was a big commitment. Far larger than I thought, but it was an amazing experience and very worthwhile.
Many thanks Michelle and we look forward to seeing who you have chosen on Wednesday 22nd March in Birmingham,