The Value of Glocalization

Posted in Education, Government, Healthcare, Where We Work, White Paper on February 4th, 2010 by Mark VanderKlipp – Be the first to comment

One of the most pervasive ideas in the New Economy is “Glocalization:” the idea that global thinking can and should be applied to local initiatives for the benefit of a community.

Located in the Northern Lower Peninsula at the base of Grand Traverse Bay
The largest city in the region, Traverse City is located in the Northern Lower Peninsula at the base of Grand Traverse Bay.

The Value of Local

Living in a relatively small town in an economically challenged state, we understand the intrinsic benefit of this concept. In fact, many of our staffers are involved in community initiatives to bring Traverse City, MI into a more global mindset, while building on the things that make our city unique. We know that the choices we make day to day either contribute to, or detract from, our local community. And we support this concept in communities across America; creatively rebuilding through local initiatives will help our nation pull out of this downturn.

It’s amazing the kinds of businesses that this area attracts. Daily we see examples of people who’ve chosen to live and work here, both for the quality of life it affords, as well as the opportunity for growth. Global enterprises and personalities have chosen Traverse City as a home base for many reasons; in response, we’ve grown to become a world class destination.

Lately we’ve experienced a movement toward localism as we’ve approached potential clients: a project in Illinois was awarded to an in-state competitor rather than our Michigan-based firm. Conversely, we have benefited from this mindset by winning projects in Michigan over out of state firms.

We’d like to take a moment to comment on this trend as we look toward the future.

The Value of Distance

A fish is not aware of the water its in - and often, it takes an outside perspective to see a solution.
They say a fish is not aware of the water its in – and often, it takes an outside perspective to see a solution.

With each new project, we bring the perspective of a first-time visitor. This allows us to be objective in our assessment and design, often leading to discoveries that might come as a surprise to our clients. The saying goes that a fish has no awareness of the water it’s in; in much the same way, the perspective of an outside resource can provide unforeseen value, especially as it relates to wayfinding.

Case in point: for one large regional client, we brought the point of view of that first-time visitor to the table: faced with a region containing almost 100 cities and townships, and within those several primary destinations, how do I find my way?

We’ve created a system of wayfinding cues that might not have been obvious to locals: first, we broke the region into three separate districts: downtown, the city limits and the county. Then we created permanent reference points for visitors: the network of highways that penetrate the region. Using these cues, a visitor can triangulate a destination in a number of ways: DOT signs, printed maps, wayfinding signage and/or technology tools. We saw a resource that locals took for granted and used it to wayfinding advantage. Destinations throughout the region can now use this simple logic as a coding device when communicating to their audiences; as new destinations are added, the system can expand indefinitely. New wayfinding signage currently being installed conveys this logic.

When should a community look beyond itself?

As we well know, not every service is available to every community. This is particularly true when one considers highly skilled and niche services such as wayfinding design and programming. Many institutions and cities have identified wayfinding as a priority, and often look to local resources as a first option. But if indeed they find that there are no qualified local designers, it’s important to look outside of their immediate area. Because public funds are often allocated for these projects, finding the most qualified company for the job ensures that those funds are invested wisely.

The Reality of Distance

While an outside perspective is valuable, sometimes an outside presence is questioned. We’ve seen this in many communities where we’ve worked: “why does it take a firm from Michigan to solve our local challenges? And why are we paying them to come all the way to (insert city name here) to do this work?”

Fair questions, to be sure.

In medicine, you bring in a specialist to diagnose, treat and develop a strategy to resolve your condition. But it would be a waste of time and money to rely on that specialist for day to day care. Rather, you rely on a local practitioner to help you with the day to day management of a condition. It’s exactly the same with design services: it’s your investment in design that puts you on the right track, if you’ll pardon the pun. It’s the designer’s investment in you that keeps everyone moving forward.

Additionally, technology allows us to be present when budgets do not. In recent years our cost of doing business has dropped substantially because of WebEx and other technologies. We regularly rely on Web-based mapping to confirm and reinforce wayfinding decisions; and we often partner with local firms for their perspective and presence as needed.

All Sign Shops Are Not Equal

The perspective we’re providing on design services applies equally to sign fabrication. We know that all cities have sign shops. So why wouldn’t an institution hire a local commercial sign shop to implement their wayfinding system? Experience tells us that not all sign shops are capable:

  • At times, the complexity and management of a large project is beyond the capacity of a local sign fabricator
  • Nationally-recognized fabricators can bring experience in project management, engineering, permitting and economies of scale to bear on a project, often saving time and money in the long run.
  • These fabricators have access to a large shop in which to marshal supplies and store completed components prior to installation. Most commercial sign shops do not possess such capacity.
  • Often wayfinding signs are located along major roadways and require installers to safely manage traffic while they work. A well-equipped, experienced installer is capable of accomplishing this.

Many of our clients use national fabricators to engineer and build wayfinding program elements. They often employ local subcontractors to assist in installation and management. But we know that for ongoing maintenance, it’s best to keep it local, to develop relationships and understanding over time to help maintain the system. The City of Grand Rapids is one example of many Corbin clients who’ve achieved success in this way.


If you look to our past experience, our clients have provided substantial evidence that there is value in choosing a specialized consultant to manage an important issue such as wayfinding. As with signage, not everyone has the experience or the capacity to do it efficiently or correctly. Our specialization in wayfinding design for our clients is in many ways unmatched in North America. We continue to draw on this experience as we bring our point of view to new challenges and partnerships.

We welcome your questions and commentary!

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