Back in November ’08, I wrote an article about a 2 metre high Foamex® PitWheel I designed for a Next, Plc Distribution warehouse. Well, this time I was contracted to design a ‘mockup pallet racking system‘ to fill 3 walls of a new room, built inside another one of their new warehouses in Manvers Way, Wath, UK.
As part of a new multi-million-pound venture, a new warehouse was constructed to pick larger, non clothing items for Next Stores nationwide, as well as the Next Directory. Picking is carried out using mechanical ‘lollops’, but the Next training department wanted to train new employees away from the health & safety dangers of these machines. They needed to train people on how to pick items using various barcode systems before using any machinery, in short.
What I my task was…
The solution to training new employees away from the warehouse hazards (in the early stages of training) was to re-create a life-like working environment. So, I was tasked with the great challenge of designing a 2.4m high x 15m wide set of racking for a room that was only just being built. Oh yes.
How I rose to the Challenge
I shall now outline how the project proceeded, from initially visiting the site—right the way to actually constructing the mockup pallet racking in the allocated room. Here goes…
◥ This is a typical aisle in the warehouse on the second floor. The left-hand side shows one type of pallet racking—with the right showing another type (with ‘yellow bars’) that required replicating in Foamex®.
◥ After taking many photos, here came the most important aspect of the project—measuring-up. I whipped out my Moleskine® notebook at various stages of being escorted around the warehouse to jot-down exact—yes, exact measurements of everything I required to start conceptualising the racking structure.
If I got this part wrong, the whole project would go awry. Seriously, I advise you that if you are ever asked to do something like this, only settle for rough handwriting, not rough measurements.
◥ Now, second in importance to the measurements were accurate photographs. By ‘accurate’, I mean precise in relation to my goals for this project. I had already conceptualised in my mind how I would start producing the designs on my Mac, so I required certain, detailed and well-angled shots to accomplish the task in hand.
◥ Back at the desk, I imported all my images into iPhoto® from a 10MP digital Cannon SLR (which, admittedly, I borrowed from my Dad for this project). I then just dragged the required snaps from this application straight into PhotoShop®.
◥ This photo sums up my first real challenges this project brief threw at me. As can be seen, the racking wasn’t just perfectly straight. The main steel orange and blue bars were, but underlying racking was skewed, distorted, covered in tie-wraps and shrouded in protecting black foam. Replicating how the racking actually looked with ‘worts-and-all‘ wasn’t on my agenda.
Yeah, it had to be real, but it had to function as a working-design; out of the ‘natural environment’ and into a projected notion of itself. In short, the racking, as I saw it, had to represent the racking positively, without its negatives—just like a model who is airbrushed for a glossy magazine.
Working in Photoshop®
◥ To create a coherent design that retained the authenticity of the photography, yet was scalable and replicable, I decided after some experimentation, to map certain photographic features of the racking onto solid blocks of colour.
◥ In this example, I took the detail of a weld from the end of an orange racking support; “mapping” it onto a very generic-looking Photoshop® mockup using gradients and basic shading features.
◥ The top of this image shows some elements I extracted from a photo, which I over-laid (mapped) onto the generic-mockup. I then used similar methods for the grey shelving elements.
◥ I used one art-board in Photoshop® to start sizing-up elements, assessing how they would relate to each other. The sponge texture was taken straight from the photography and seamlessly repeated.
◥ This image shows how I began to map some shelving “fixing” elements over a proportioned blue racking bar. As always, the most crucial aspect of this project was correct measurements, proportions and unity.
◥ After completion of the “fixing” elements and background, I started to look at how well it integrated with the rest of the pallet racking design.
◥ This is how some of the racking was starting to look. Every-so-often, I would zoom-out to ensure all was well with the design work. Keeping my “eye on the ball” was crucial.
◥ When everything was in proportion, I started work on smaller details that added a 3D feel to the designs. Here, I have started work on a shadow, which is situated behind an orange racking-support.
◥ In-all, I had to design three separate sets of racking design, as shown above. I have set layer transparencies in Photoshop® at varied levels so they can be shown against each other clearly.
◥ This pallet racking was higher than the others, so I had to be careful when matching the “holes” (in the blue vertical bars) to the smaller pallet racking design.
◥ This was the room that was being constructed for the Foamex® design. It was made from plasterboard and aluminium supports, with a wooden door.
◥ Because of the fact that plasterboard was used in the construction, it meant that I could use nails or screws to attach the designs if needed. However, this wasn’t how I was to attach them (more on this later).
As can been seen, the building contractors used a 4″ high skirting board around the base of the wall. This meant that the foam board style design couldn’t rest on the floor, which was a pity, but sometimes compromises have to be made.
◥ When I designed some pallets (in two separate sizes) to be used in the design, I simply used my own measurements to design a flat-pallet shape, and map the pallet-wooden-texture onto this shape I created.
◥ Each pallet was coded either A,B or C, depending on where it would be situated doing construction. In fact, all the racking was coded, too, making it easier identify the varied sections of the designs. Note: It always pays to think ahead.
◥ This is an example of the type of boxes that were located on the shelving racking at Next DVP (when I took the photographs).
◥ To make a mockup box in Photoshop®, I simply transformed it into the size required, and used layer masks to hide elements of it (mostly the edges) that I didn’t require.
◥ After this was done, I created a mockup-box shape, filled it with brown—and overlaid the original masked-image. This method, like the racking, created a very realistic yet very generic/unified look and feel to the designs.
Printing onto Foamex®
◥ When all the elements of the design were nearing completion, I set up a document which was exactly one-quarter size of the intended output print-size @ 400dpi. The designs were to be printed onto two 5mm Black Foamex® sheets measuring 2.5 metres wide x 1.5 metres high. Setting up the resolution at 400dpi meant that the whole design was printed at 100dpi, which is adequate for large format printing.
◥ Here is another example of the types of boxes I reconstructed digitally. These bore the warning “FRAGILE”, so I saw it quite fitting to include messages such as this in the designs. I also used “HEAVY” messages and varied symbols and arrow warnings.
I also made sure I erased the information and barcodes included on the white box labels. I did this so that when the boxes were printed, the trainers at Next could place their own scannable-labels onto the designs, as requested.
◥ This image shows the file to be used for large format printing for the second Foamex® board. As shown, the whole design is like a giant jigsaw puzzle, with all the elements required squeezed into place; to fit-in as many extra boxes as possible.
◥ In between the boxes, racking shelving and pallet designs, I left some white space so when they were printed, the folks at the printers could cut them out individually—”knowing which bit was what”.
I also indicated which parts were to be cut-out using “Trim” text, as well as phone discussions and instructions by email.
◥ Built-in contingency: In some of the “spare spaces” in the files, I created some extra few inches of racking shelving, just in case. If I had measured the wall wrong, for example, I would have extra lengths of racking to lengthen it when it was assembled. However, if the racking was too long, I could simply cut some off with a scalpel and metal ruler.
◥ When the designs were ready to be sent to the printers, I printed off the proofs with an A4 colour laser-printer (Magicolor® 2530) ready for both review and approval by the client. The first page was formulated of a description of the designs and detail.
◥ I thought it prudent to print another set of designs and cut the main individual pieces out with a scalpel and ruler. I then used my kitchen table to lay-out the paper pieces to make sure of the following:
- That I had the right amount of racking posts and shelving.
- To ensure the pieces were in proportion to each other
- To gage how the pallets would look under the racking sections.
- To ensure, simply put, that the design truly “worked as a whole”.
After I laid the pieces out on the table, I was satisfied with how it all fit-together and looked. After preparing the artwork, I emailed them to the printers, along with the corresponding quotation number.
Foamex® Delivery & Assembly
◥ The people at the print-house printed the designs onto a special paper, and bonded it onto two large sheets of Black 5mm Foamex®, sealing it with an anti-scratch coating. Then, they used special cutting equipment to cut-out the individual pieces.
They then wrapped the Foamex® segments in bubble-wrap, placed then in a large wooden box, along with some industrial velcro (hooks and loops) and posted them to the client.
◥ After a couple of email exchanges about when I would construct the racking design, I visited the Next Dearne Valley Palletised site to assemble the Foamex® pieces.
◥ This is Industrial Velcro, which is very strong and is more-than-capable in holding Foamex®, Foam Board, MDF and Correx® to a flat surface. After fixing about 25 separate large-format Foamex® designs to walls and notice boards in the past, I have seen the benefits of using velcro to assemble these designs.
My own method is to attach lengths of the hooks and loops of the industrial velcro first, stick the strips together, peel off the backing from the “loops” length of the velcro and stick this side to the underside of the Foamex® (obviously, this would work for MDF board, foam board, etc, too).
◥ Constructing the design wasn’t easy—as the shelving elements of the pallet racking had to line-up exactly to the vertical bars. Moreover, once the velcro hooks side was attached to the wall, it was a permanent action, as removing it would take the paint off the new plasterboard walls.
It was therefore a rather tricky task attaching the Foamex® board to walls in the exact places required. I used a tape measure and spirit-level to aid me during this process.
The Finished Foamex® Pallet Racking Design
◥ Once I assembled the pallet racking elements, I evenly distributed the various boxes and pallets in between the pallet racking and shelving.
◥ The large foam design stands out clearly from new new white-painted walls of the training room.
◥ In this view, the 5mm thickness of the Black Foamex® can be seen, giving the racking design a very prominent 3D appearance.
◥ The final step in the completion of the design will be for the Next training staff to attach what barcodes they need on the racking edges and boxes in their own time.
I will be doing some more foam designs for Next soon, which will have some “spare” space available in some of the Foamex® boards, where there can be some extra boxes printed to fill-out the design. It would look fuller with more boxes included, but the budget only allowed for printing onto two 2.5 metre x 1.5metre foam boards.
This was a fantastic and inspiring project to work on. It’s great to work on projects where what you’re doing is a really custom job, with nothing else out-there to match it. I’ve worked with Foamex® now plenty of times, and although I also love to design posters, logos and other printed matter, producing customised solutions is my true nature as a graphic designer.
I’ve yet to work with MDF board or standard Foam Board, but I’ve produced Correx® signs before. Bar far, however, Foamex® has the durable capacity to produce large-format designs out of. It’s bendable, pliable, cuttable and very strong (being made of a plastic/foam composite). The use of Foamex® and Industrial Velco worked perfectly for this task—but the other material mentioned would have lacked the durability required.
I can’t really think of anything I would have done differently in this job (or “challenge”, I may call it). I made accurate mathematical calculations, analysed the racking and photography properly—and applied them to a creative agenda.
I don’t believe I’ve done something special personally, as any good graphic designer is capable of producing this kind of work. If you’re a designer and have never produced work like this before, why not give it a try? Please ask me any questions about the design in the comments section below.
Finally, a bit of self-promotion…
If you would like me to work on a custom project like this for you, please contact me or use my Hire Me online form. If the project requires assembling, like this example, I’m a very ‘hands-on’ designer and can qive you a quotation inclusive of this. Generally, I will travel up to 50 miles away from the Leeds area, but costing for longer distances is not ruled out.