Business inspection: Helping the less able find their way

Barney Cox
Monday, October 27, 2014

Developing signage to assist dementia sufferers has helped Find build a profitable niche.

The challenge

As the population ages, more and more of us will have to live with dementia. With one in three people in the UK suffering from the condition by the time they die, hardly anyone will escape without themselves or a loved one feeling the effects.

Fortunately there are ways to make living with dementia easier, which can help sufferers to maintain independence and dignity, and printed signage has an important part to play.

When Anthony Cockcroft bought Find Signage in April 2011, it was primarily to add the firm’s expertise in digital production and use of metal and plastic signage fabrication to complement his other print business interests on paper and board.

“I saw a lot of crossover in the client bases and Find Signage was producing signage and floor graphics, which our customers were asking my other businesses for,” he says.

There was also another string to Find Signage’s bow that Cockcroft realised was worth developing.

“The firm was already working with one of its major clients, Bupa, on signage for dementia sufferers,” says Cockcroft. “I realised we were onto something. You can’t open a newspaper without seeing something about dementia.”

For sufferers of dementia the challenge is to maintain their independence and dignity, while for the care homes looking after them, it is to keep costs under control in addition to supporting that independence and dignity. 

Cockcroft provides the following example: “The right signage makes it possible for a care home resident to navigate themselves to and from the loo. Without the signage they’d need the assistance of a carer. With signage the client retains their dignity and the home reduces its costs – in a home of 40 people think how many trips to the loo are required each day.”

The method

At Bupa’s behest the firm looked at how to make signage more effective for dementia patients. It began by working with specialists at the Universities of Salford and Stirling.

The company now employs dementia specialists to work with clients to develop the best environments for them.

“Key to the success of our products is that they are recognisable by someone whatever their cognitive state,” he says.

The firm developed seven design principles to use when creating its products. Those seven principles are: colour, shape, pictures, materials, text contrast and durability.

Colour can trigger emotions and is a powerful communication tool. However, the ability to see colour when you have dementia is quite likely to be impaired. So the firm uses bright, bold contrasting colours.

Each sign design is a unique shape and often uses a picture to create an outline unique to that sign. The shape helps clients who may have impaired colour vision with recognition. For those with little or no vision at all, if they can touch the sign, they can identify its shape and know where they are. 

People with dementia find it harder to read or may lose the ability completely. The use of pictures acts as a prompt for the words on the sign, or can communicate the sign’s message without the need for a word at all. Pictures are a powerful trigger of memories. Iconic images create readily identifiable landmarks and have genuine meaning for the viewer.

The design of any product is as much about the materials used, as it is the way it looks. Because of the environments the products are used in, they may need to be non-reflective, fire-rated, and meet infection control requirements. 

The way text is presented is an important consideration. Block capitals should only be used for initial letters, as the shapes of words as a whole are important for recognition. Use of block capitals can make every word into an unrecognisable block. Typefaces must be clear and without serifs and the larger, the better. High contrast is required to ensure the text stands out. 

Contrast is an essential part of decoding our environment. It can be used to highlight or hide a doorway, for example. 

Products need to be durable. Imagine that you come to rely on a toilet sign, then one day it isn’t there. They are handled a lot and they’re going to get dirty too, so must withstand standard cleaning products and methods.


Product range

Signage was the first product to be developed. Find produces three different sign types; the original standard range, the Hygenus range, with anti-bacterial properties and self-adhesive signs. 

Over time the range of products has expanded and now includes: room identification, reminiscence pictures, activities and orientation, clocks and communication aids.

“It’s things like having a street sign to identify each corridor and using vinyl graphic door decals so each resident has their own ‘front door’,” Cockcroft says. 

Reminiscence can also be an important therapy. “If you recognise things that are relevant to you it helps trigger memories,” he says. “So we reproduce old adverts like Bovril, Castrol and Oxo. Rather than something irrelevant to you, it’s some- thing that triggers memory and recognition.”

Cockcroft likens the result of not having these mementos to the disorientation familiar to the business traveller in a huge hotel where every floor looks identical, but with the added horror that that is your permanent home not just for a couple of nights away.

One of the products that the firm produces is what it calls a memory box, which replaces a mirror and is filled with photos and objects from the client’s life. 

“Someone with dementia may not recognise themselves in the mirror, or for that matter members of their family as they look today,” he says. “ The memory box reminds you of who you are. It can also help to spark conversations with the carers, which helps to build a relationship and trust.”

With colour and images crucial to improved communications, printing has played an increasingly important role within the firm as it has developed it dementia products. 

“Adding printing kit was a godsend. It has helped in developing the products but also opened up other opportunities for client branding,” says Cockcroft.

The importance of shape is reflected in the firm’s three routers, two custom-built machines and its latest addition, a Dyss X7, which was supplied by AG CAD along with its Kasemake software. The Dyss X7 was installed earlier this year to automate a lot of manual cutting. It also improved the quality of the finish – important for visually impaired users feeling the shapes as a means of orienting themselves.

“It produces a great finish, much finer than our industrial routers and works with a myriad of materials, we’re not restricted in any shape or form,” he says.

The result

Over the past three years, turnover at the firm has grown impressively from £800,000 to a projected £2m by the end of this financial year. Staff have also increased by more than 50% from nine to 14, and the firm is looking to recruit further.

Focusing on products for dementia sufferers has also moved the firm beyond printed signage. By talking to its customer base and using its in-house expertise in the needs of those with dementia it has developed further product lines. These include Find Dining and toilet and bathroom fittings, which both conform to the firm’s seven design principles. 

Having established itself as the leading player in the UK market serving 3,000 care homes and 300 hospitals Find Signage has now set its sights on export markets with clients in the US and Australia, and Cockcroft has recently returned from a trade show in Germany. 

“I spend a fair amount of my time now on international travel selling Find Signage overseas,” he says.

Find Signage is a perfect example of how if you set out to help others, you can help your business. 


Find Signage

Location Leeds

Inspection host Managing director Anthony Cockcroft

Size Turnover: £2m; staff: 14 

Established 1997

Products Signage, in particular signage and other visual aids to help sufferers of dementia to communicate and remain active, engaged and independent

Kit HP Designjet Z 6100 large-format printer, HP 9000 large-format printer, HP 10000 large-format printer, Roland RF640 dye-sublimation printer, DYSS X7 – 3x2.2m CAD table, Salmetall 2m-wide laminator – heated top roller, two GBC 1,600mm F60 IJT laminators, two Graphtec pro FC7000-160 vinyl cutters, 3x2m custom-built CNC router with auto tool changer, 1.25x2.5m custom-built CNC router 

Inspection focus Developing a niche market

Top tips

Work closely with your customers to identify any unmet needs they have that you could help to meet.

Look for more customers with the same or similar needs and target them to maximise the opportunity. Check if there is an export market for your speciality.

Seek out experts in your chosen market, such as universities, to help you understand the specific challenges and requirements of that sector so you can deliver an appropriate solution.

Use sector specialists who can work with customers to develop appropriate solutions rather than just sell a product.

Establish if you need to offer variants of the same core products that are suitable for different settings. For example, using different substrates to meet needs for ease of application, ease of cleaning or tactility.

See if there are additional products and services beyond print that you can offer to complement your production capabilities that offer additional revenue streams and opportunities.

Make sure there is enough structure in place and clear lines of responsibility to enable day-to-day operation, especially if key members of the management team are going to be away looking for further growth. 


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