Learning What You’ve Learned

Have you ever read back over an old paper, even one from just a month or two ago, and immediately wanted to rewrite the entire thing? It’s an odd moment, because you’re cringing over work that used to make you proud, but also realizing how much you’ve learned since writing it. It’s hard to have this instance of recognition without a foil — in this case, an old paper — against which to weigh your current knowledge.

On the evening of Saturday, February 25, I had an experience that gave me a chance to test how much I’d learned in this first month of Wayfinding, through design constraints that I felt were opposed to successful wayfinding design. I was helping out with the 24X event hosted by the Interactive Media department and tasked with putting up some signs to lead visitors to the room where presentations were taking place. The fact that these signs were essential enough to cause the event organizers anxiety at the thought of them not being finished in time is an issue in itself. The Arts Center is so maze-like that they were concerned that, without signs, visitors would give up trying to find the room and skip the event altogether.

But given that the signs were a necessity for hosting an event in C3, I found myself working under an interesting set of constraints. The signs had to be made from the existing 24x poster design and fit the image. The posters were made to advertise the event, so it only makes sense that “24X” takes up a huge, central portion of the page. The directional arrows had to fit in the remaining space, so they were smaller than ideal. I opted to get rid of the slogan and website links, which I felt were the most non-essential information, both to make more space for the arrow and to remove some of the visual noise around it.

The arrow was not supposed to disturb the original design, but the background colors posed an issue. Any arrow of significant size would stretch across all three colors of the background, meaning a piece of any arrow that used the preexisting color scheme would disappear. I took two of the background colors to use as negative-positive fill for the arrow (as opposed to three, which I felt would be distracting). I could hear Goffredo yelling at me for essentially designing a camouflaged arrow, but my other designs with outlines and more standout colors were rejected. I also added some text to make it super clear towards which room visitors were being led.

Existing Poster
Wayfinding Sign

After finalizing the signage design, the hanging posed another problem. The Tricia Brown Dance Company was scheduled in the C3 atrium at around the same time as the 24X presentations, so the organizers were very much concerned with not ruining the backdrop of the performance. This meant that I was advised against hanging signs on the most visible walls, hanging large signs, and hanging too many signs. Since we were addressing visitors coming in through the front doors and trying to direct them towards the leftmost staircase, I took advantage of the roundness of the columns by angling signs towards the doors and away from the performance space. As we began to run out of signs, my hanging partner and I started to disagree about where our limited number of remaining arrows would go. I thought that one best belonged at the top of the stairs to give a quick signal as to which direction to turn at the platform. My partner thought it would be better suited above the doorframe of the presentation room, which was already marked on both sides of each door. It came down to a question of wayfinding vs. branding, and my partner’s seniority meant that branding won.

Branding also triumphed in our singular floor sign, which was brilliantly made with red electrical tape that likely garnered more attention than the camouflaged arrows. The floor sign would have been perfect at each doorway to point visitors towards the proper staircase, but this was also thought to be potentially disturbing to the dance performance. All in all, the fact that we had any signage system at all definitely helped at least a few of the people who had come to see the event, and their presence combined with the consistency of 24X’s branding made the location issue fade into the background, allowing people to enjoy the main event and not get caught up in the process of getting there.


One thought on “Learning What You’ve Learned

  1. I love this post! It was really interesting to read about the way that everything we have been learning in class can be applied to real situations, and it is obvious that you (well, all of us) have been absorbing so much. Regarding the sign, you definitely made the most out of an extremely constrained task, and congrats on keeping the sign so consistent with the original poster! Lastly, I wonder what we could learn from your experience in which branding won over design (thanks to your senior partner) in light of Professor Puccetti’s branding lecture last class; perhaps we can learn that while good design is indeed necessary for effective branding, an over-emphasis on branding can eventually inhibit good design choices.


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