The Final Wayfinding Miscellany

Overview

For my last post, I will resume the usual format: I will discuss a variety of different design and wayfinding-related topics, however this time they will be more about personal experiences than about class discussions. The topics are:

  1. Dubai Trip Observations
  2. Struggles with Bureaucracy
  3. Two Funny Signs
  4. Why Wayfinding Isn’t About “Getting Used to It”
  5. A Personal Reflection On Design

(1) Dubai Trip Observations

The trip to Dubai and to the Etihad Museum was absolutely wonderful (and not just because of the amazing Italian food). Every part of the museum was so carefully designed and put together; everything was shiny, clean, and simply stunning. In this post, I wanted to comment on eight specific things I (or sometimes, we) noticed during the trip.

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(2) Struggles With Bureaucracy

Planning a night to test my individual project by projecting a sign onto a residence hall has been a bit of a nightmare. However, I know what the problem was: I should have known that there would be a lot of bureaucracy, and I should have contacted Professor Puccetti for help earlier. I naively thought I could just gather the materials myself and hold the projection night without contacting school departments; then, when I discovered that I could not do so, I entered into an enormous maze of bureaucracy. Just in the past two days, I have given or received over 40 emails about the projection night, and will certainly receive more between now and tomorrow evening. However, with Professor Puccetti’s help, everything will go as planned, and hopefully — if all goes well — I will be holding the “event” tomorrow night (April 27th) from 7:30 – 8:30 PM. All are welcome to come check it out (it won’t be too exciting, my apologies).

The image below briefly details the process of getting the power source, and it actually (believe it or not) portrays the process as much easier than it truly was:

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Update: It actually turned out that I will need a generator, and I am currently settling all the details to hold the event at A6A with the generator on the evening of April 27th. The departments have actually been very fast and helpful, to which I owe Professor Puccetti for making the requirements of my project so clear to the officials involved.

[Last thoughts: throughout this process, I have very clearly seen what Professor Puccetti refers to as a “policy over outcome” approach. Meaning, that the university is slowly starting to value policy (specific processes, steps, requirements, etc.), over the actual outcome and actuality of certain actions/events. For example, even though there is a plug indoors about twenty feet from the place I need to use the projector, I was not permitted to use an extension cord and go ahead with the project because of strict policies/rules. As Professor Puccetti has said, policies are only supposed to help people and make things easier; if they are making things harder they are not fulfilling their job, and become arbitrary and harmful.]


(3) Two Funny (?) Signs

Just for fun, I wanted to write about two interesting signs I have seen around campus.

a. The first is a hand-made sign — a post-it note — I saw stuck to the elevator buttons at the elevator next to the cafeteria. Clearly, the fact that this woman had to go to the lengths of creating her own “signage” to help people find her office indicates that there is a major wayfinding problem on campus.

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b. The second sign is one that Professor Puccetti pointed out to me. It is located behind the bushes on a wall of the lifts next to the campus center on the second floor. Personally, I believe it is the most helpful sign on campus: I mean, at least if people never see it they can’t be confused by it, right?

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(4) Why Wayfinding Isn’t About “Getting Used to It”

It is always nice to find out that you were right about something, and while doing research/interviews for my individual project it has been confirmed that I am not a crazy individual for thinking that the lack of clear signage on the residence halls is incredibly detrimental. However, I discovered something else that is strange: many NYUAD students, having lived on campus for several years, take a while to remember how bad the signage is. They often say something like this: “Well, it was difficult in the beginning — I remember always being confused at first trying to find my dorm/my friend’s dorms — but I guess now I’m used to it.” Since they have “gotten used to it” they are not that concerned about it anymore. However, whenever I hear something like this, I cannot help but think: wayfinding is not about “getting used to something,” it is about how easy it should be to find something the first time. Of course, once you know where something is, it feels obvious, but the fact is that it is not obvious, and wayfinding issues will never improve unless people stop being so complacent in their thinking.


(5) A Personal Reflection on Design

While taking this class, I have gone back and forth about design. Sometimes I am so excited about it, and feel like this is what I should be doing. Other times I feel like I am terrible at it: I think, I am not a good artist, do I really want to spend my whole life on Photoshop, is this an intellectual enough field for me, etc. While these (largely unfounded) fears/questions do not haunt me anymore, I have been thinking a bit about what I really like to do/am really good at.

In general, I have started to realize that what I really like doing, more than designing beautiful, artistic things, is organizing information. I like breaking it up, editing it, formatting it, organizing it into a visually-pleasing arrangement, and making it easy for people to understand. I have always felt that there are so many things that are made unnecessarily complex, or are simply confusing because they are not presented in a coherent, attractive manner. How this tendency/knack of mine fits into design is something that I am still learning, and on the way it has also shown me that I need to work harder on my weaker areas — creativity, artistic skills, etc. Regardless, I am so incredibly happy that I switched into this class, and even if I do not know what the future holds for me design-wise, I believe that the skills I have learned are going to help me in the future in all types of ways.

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Wayfinding Reflections

This week, I decided to do something I have only done once before: make a video (well, a slideshow with me talking over it) about the things we have been learning in class. Since, however, we have covered so much material these past two weeks, I decided to actually make three videos. The topics of the videos are: 1) the pictogram project, 2) the Arts Center project, and 3) the recent creativity lecture given by Professor Puccetti. For each topic, I include both the video (which is the slideshow with my voiceover), as well as the plain slideshow in case anyone would like to refer to it.

In regards to the videos, a few things to note: (a) I did my best to speak in a direct way, but I was not reading from a written script and so my speech is much more casual/imperfect than it was in the first video I did about the emergency exit. I wanted it to be more personal, and less robotic. (b) Similar to the first time, however, the quality of the sound is still subpar – this is the result of recording via the microphone on my laptop. The sound issues led me to make awkward, unnatural cuts at the beginning of the first and second video, which is why they start off sounding as if I am speaking mid-sentence. If I decide to make another video in the future I will surely use better sound equipment. (c) In unrelated note, I am unable to choose the initial photo/thumbnail of the Youtube videos – which is frustrating and not visually-pleasing. Please ignore them. 🙂


1) The Pictogram Project

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2) The Arts Center Project

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3) Creativity

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The World of Wayfinding

Overview

As usual, this post will include a conglomeration of topics ranging from class lectures to outside discoveries to our assigned readings. I hope that everybody will be able to find something interesting in the post, but at the very least it should serve as a good review of certain areas of the knowledge we are gaining in this class. Below is an outline of the topics I will cover:

  1. Typefaces (Part II)
  2. Rem Koolhaas
  3. Designers Don’t Lie
  4. Travels: Sri Lanka Airport & Singapore
  5. D1 Talking Points
  6. Readings: Brief Insights

(1) Typefaces (Part II)

In my last blog post I included some of the take-aways from Professor Puccetti’s first lecture about typefaces that took place on February 24. The lecture continued on March 2, and I thus wanted to include notes from that class on the blog as well. Unlike last time when I included key take-aways from the lecture, this time I will include a list composed primarily of brief notes and facts, with only a couple “bigger” ideas.

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(2) Rem Koolhaas

On March 16 I had the amazing honor to attend a lecture by Rem Koolhaas, the renowned Dutch architect, at The Yard in Dubai. The lecture revolved around Koolhaas’ most famous buildings, and consequently it less about concepts and design theories (unfortunately) as it was about real-world information. Of course, I still learned a lot and felt privileged to be given a chance to hear from him (additionally, The Yard had lots of wonderful art exhibits that I enjoyed looking through after the lecture). Below I list the main insights imparted by Koolhaas (most of which are specific to Dubai/the Middle East):

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(3) Designers Don’t Lie

Watch for the lie factor.

On March 7, Professor Puccetti gave a lecture aptly named “Designers Don’t Lie” (A Conversation on the Visual Display of Quantitative Information). We not only learned how easily designers are able to misrepresent (read: lie) about information, but also how dangerous it is when non-designers misrepresent information (accidentally or ignorantly, not deceptively). Additionally, we learned about a few things designers should never do (cough cough, clip art). Below I detail some of the main take-aways from the lecture:

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(4) Travels: Sri Lanka Airport & Singapore

 

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Abu Dhabi to Singapore

I was fortunate to be able to visit Singapore this spring break – the city is beautiful, clean, and in general, permits easy wayfinding. However, on the way to Singapore from Abu Dhabi, I had a brief layover in Sri Lanka, at Bandaranaike International Airport, and observed something both hilarious and tragic (well, tragic for those who value good wayfinding design). See if you notice anything strange in the photo below:

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Notice anything strange?

As you can see, I took the photo while standing next to Gate 10-11; however, as you can see, a sign ahead indicates that Gates 8-9 and 12-14 are further ahead. Why those gates would be next to each other, while Gate 10-11 would be somewhere else is beyond me – and this strange arrangement confused me for a moment while I was navigating the airport myself.

Another issue at the airport was the following: there was a screen in the main hallway, right at the door of each gate. Passengers had to wait in the hallway until the screen read “Singapore (or whatever destination) is now boarding,” and only then could they enter the gate area (where there were tons of empty seats, unlike in the hallway). While this was bad enough, since it made no sense to have the gate area (a huge, air-conditioned room full of chairs) stay empty for seemingly no reason until the magical boarding time appeared on the screen, there was an even worse issue. When the screen finally read that a flight was boarding, the workers would still not let passengers into the gating area. For this reason, the situation was very much like the doors on NYUAD’s campus that read “this is not a door”: whenever a passenger, seeing that the screen said the flight was boarding, would go up to a gate agent, the agent would say “the flight is not boarding yet.” It was a rather interesting, though somewhat frustrating, experience.

Lastly, during my stay in Singapore I experienced several minor wayfinding issues. The most noteworthy, however, is the one I briefly mentioned in class. In order to enter a beautiful garden area, I was told I had to go up an elevator to the sixth floor. After doing so, I realized that while I was on the sixth floor, and while the bridge to the gardens was also on the sixth floor, the bridge and the rest of the floor were not connected. I finally entered the gardens 45 minutes later, after going back down to the ground floor, leaving the building I was in, going down into a subway station, coming up from the subway station into a different building, and only then taking an elevator up to the sixth floor. It was confusing, but overall still fun – for even the subway stations in Singapore are sparklingly clean and beautiful.


(5) D1 Notes

On March 9, we as a class went to D1 to look around the space and think more about how it could (and should) eventually be used. Below are (a) some pictures I took of the space for reference (unfortunately the pictures are not the best, for that same day they were preparing D1 for a DJ night), as well (b) a few of the biggest talking points from our brainstorming session.

A) D1 Photos

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B) D1 Brainstorming Topics

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6) Readings: Brief Insights

In this last section, I wanted to briefly mention two insights I gained from a recent reading assignment:

  • In Wayshowing > Wayfinding, Per Mollerup defines wayshowing as “all the activities and implements that make a location navigable” as well as “identifiable, understandable, memorable, and accessible” (50). The notion that wayshowing (and the field of wayfinding in general) involves making a location memorable is what really struck me, and I wondered what memorable means in this context. In terms of wayfinding, a location being memorable means two possible things to me: it could mean a) that it was so easy to navigate that it permitted users to have a wonderful experience in that location, creating positive associations with the place and consequently leaving a memorable mark on users, and/or b) that the signs, landmarks, etc. were so beautiful/creative/striking that the location also became memorable as result.
  • In the same text, Mollerup explains that there is a wayshowing hierarchy: 1) environment (e.g. landmarks), 2) direct labels (e.g. signs), and 3) self-explanation (e.g. help desks). It is best to maximize the first level of the hierarchy in aiding people’s wayfinding, and then the second, and lastly, the third. More than anything, what I thought when I read this sentence was the following: it is fascinating that wayfinding experts (and designers in general) are able to put into words what people intuitively know, but often ignore/forget/are unable to articulate. There is no doubt that a landmark is a better/easier wayfinding tool than an information desk, but despite this knowledge there are lots of places (such as airports, among others) that resort first to the third level of the wayshowing hierarchy without putting effort into the first two, which are more effective/efficient methods. I cannot help but feel that everyone should take a wayfinding or design course in their lives, and consequently I am very happy to know that wayfinding at NYU Abu Dhabi will be core next semester (and I wish such a class would exist at NYU Shanghai as well).

A Wayfinding Smorgasbord

Overview

I did not think it was possible for our class to do so many different things within two weeks, but upon reflecting over our class time, I realize that we (like usual) have discussed and worked on an incredible range of topics. For this reason, combined with the facts that a) I enjoyed writing a bit about a variety of different things last time I posted, and b) the positive feedback regarding this post, I have decided to stick with the same format for this post as well. Consequently, below you can find the five topics I will cover in this blog post:

  1. Rain at NYUAD
  2. Professor Depaz on Interactivity
  3. Pictograms
  4. Roberto Casati (2/16 Lecture)
  5. Typefaces

(1) Rain at NYUAD

The first topic I wanted to bring up briefly regards an observation I had this past week. As I am sure all of you noticed, there was quite heavy rain not too long ago. While many people enjoyed this rare phenomena – as did the foliage around campus – I could not help but notice that the NYUAD campus does not seem well prepared for rain. In turn, this reminded me of Professor Puccetti’s saying, “Bad design is easily realized when bad things happen.” While rain is not technically a “bad thing,” it is certainly an uncommon phenomena in this climate and thus puts the architecture, infrastructure, and design to an ultimate test. In regards to the rain on campus, I specifically noticed the following issues:

  1. During the rain, people walking around campus (people who, obviously, do not carry umbrellas considering the usual weather) were forced to get soaked. This occurred despite there being protruding roofs around most of the buildings that permit people to walk outside without getting wet, for this benefit is completely negated by the face that there are often gaps between the buildings without any covering at all. It is a pity that 80% of the campus is walkable during the rain, but since 20% of it is not, in the end everyone must still get wet.
  2. Many hours after the rain had finished (and the hot sun had come out to dry everything off) I noticed two more issues: a) lots of water was still dripping off of the bridges onto the ground floor, which was not pleasant for the people walking around underneath them, and b) on some of the streets that connect the internal part of the campus to the streets outside, there were huge puddles of water. These short streets, being slightly slanted downwards towards the outside of campus, should have made drainage of water easy; however, their slants were not well-designed / perfectly sloped, and thus lots of water stayed trapped on them. I wish I had taken a picture of these streets when I saw them, but I found a picture online that demonstrates how they looked (although the puddles in reality were significantly bigger):
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Many streets at NYUAD were covered in puddles after the rain. https://englishmaniniceland.wordpress.com /2013/03/16/sunshine-through-the-rain/

All of this led me to wonder: is it just the NYUAD campus, or does the entire UAE struggle coping with rain? I did some research, and I found article after article about instances of flooding in the UAE; clearly, infrastructure here is not prepared to handle the stress of unusual (i.e. wet or cold) weather. What is the saddest thing about this entire topic, of course, is the fact that people’s lives are truly in danger when design (of all sorts) does not take into account these types of non-typical but yet predictable events: people in the UAE have actually died as the result of mass floods (whether because of street accidents or other reasons). Below I list two links to articles regarding flooding in the UAE:

Last note on this topic: while rain is definitely a problem for the UAE, there is no way that this issue is unique. Undoubtedly, most infrastructure in any part of the world is designed in such a way to function well in the climate and weather that is most typical. Clearly, our job as designers is to always remember to plan for non-typical situations, whether that be emergencies, natural disasters, or something as simple as rain.


(2) Professor Depaz on Interactivity

Joining Professor Depaz’s Alternate Realities class recently was particularly nice: it was interesting to get a chance to learn more about interfaces. The video we were to watch prior to the class was great; I had actually read an article by Brett Victor on the same subject before, but I enjoyed learning about his ideas in a more fleshed-out manner. I include the notes I took during Professor Depaz’s lecture below.

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The biggest take-away from this lecture and the associated article/video is that future technology does not have to be composed solely of screens. If we limit our imaginations to creating more and more glossy screens, and continue to use screens as our sole interfaces, we are both a) restricting the types of technology we can create and b) wasting our other human capabilities (spatial, aural, kinesthetic, etc.). As human societies progress, we must keep in mind these other aspects of our humanity, and incorporate them into technology in order to create a more human future.


(3) Pictograms

Here I will post my pictograms in order to continue keeping a record of the various projects that we are accomplishing in this class.

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In continuing to work on this project and move towards implementing it, there are several things I must consider/attend to:

  • There are several small issues with the drawings that I did not notice until I printed them out; I will need to return to Illustrator and fix these issues (e.g. an arm not attaching well to a shoulder, and others).
  • I need to consider whether there is anything physical that I can add to this experience: for example, should I place an “X” on the ground to mark where the pole should go? Should I include some sort of “landing” mark on the other side of the grass to show where the pole vaulter should ideally land? Would these physical aspects enhance or detract from the purpose of these pictograms?
  • In regards to implementation, I must consider what materials I should use to make the sign. Should I use something sturdy like acrylic, or should I use a high-quality poster material?
  • Additionally, I must consider the sign placement: should the sign be low to the ground (which is where “stay off the grass” signs are typically located) or should it be higher up, so that it is easier to notice and read?

These are only some of the many questions I must continue to seek answers to as I develop these pictograms and eventually implement them. I must admit I am extremely excited to see my own work actually take form and become a reality.


(4) Roberto Casati’s 2/16 Lecture

I feel so fortunate to have been able to hear the second of Robert Casati’s two lectures, “Navigation as Instrumental Negotiation”; the first was great, but I actually enjoyed the second one even more.

Below I detail 1) general notes from the lecture, and 2) a few key insights from the Q & A session which followed.

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(5) Typefaces

As a lover of typefaces, I was really excited when Professor Puccetti announced that we would be spending an entire class learning about them. I completely agree that typefaces are so much more important – in basically every way I can think of – than people give them credit for. Below I include (an extremely brief) list of take-aways from our lectures on typefaces.

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A Little Bit About Everything

Overview

Our class has been very productive and has achieved and learned so much in a rather short amount of time. For this reason, I want to use this blog post to touch on a lot of different topics, issues, and ideas. To keep everything organized, I will divide the post into five parts:

  1. Project Proposal
  2. Rethinking the Individual Project
  3. Initial Thoughts About the Brief
  4. Take-Aways from Roberto Casati’s 2/15 Lecture
  5. Highlights from Class Readings

(1) Project Proposal

I first want to simply document and publish my project proposal on this site, so that a) others can review it, critique it, or look back to it more easily throughout the semester, and b) to simply have an online, dated record of the very (very) beginning of this journey to complete my first every wayfinding project.

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I also really appreciated the fact that we had to make a proposal via a presentation so soon after we came up with our project ideas. By doing so, we were forced to quickly think through all the steps that are needed in order to implement our ideas, and the feedback following the presentation was particularly helpful. I include the feedback I received below.

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(2) Rethinking the Individual Project

I next wanted to quickly talk about a new approach I am considering taking to my individual project (which is adding signage to the residence halls on the second floor of the campus). If done correctly, the signs should be extremely large (at least four square meters by four square meters) and should be made out of a high quality, durable, desert-appropriate material that will most likely be expensive. On top of that, securing them to the buildings (at various heights) will also be difficult.

I initially proposed making the signs out of a cheaper, but relatively desert-appropriate fabric material, such as canvas. I may definitely still do this (perhaps with a different material, but still most likely a fabric, affordable material). However, I am also considering taking a different route.

It might be better to simply make one sign, of an extremely high quality, as a realistic, “life-size” example of what a residence hall sign should like. Along with that, I could use projectors and other methods to test and map where all of the signs should be placed, if they were made. In this way, my project would be focused on developing a sophisticated, extremely-detailed, highly-technical proposal to NYUAD regarding residence hall signs, with a ready-to-implement sign prepared. This might be a better way to go with the project than to create 12 signs out of a less-than-ideal material, that might not be durable enough, nor aesthetically-pleasing enough, to be permitted to stay on the buildings.

Most importantly, this method (producing one high-quality sign and a proposal to NYUAD) might better respect the designer/architect’s vision, because I would not be disturbing the intended aesthetics of the campus without the proper process and approval beforehand.

I am not saying for certain whether this is the way I will go (in fact, I am not sure if this is even permitted considering that this way my project would not be fully implemented this semester like the other projects), but it is something I have been thinking about since receiving feedback following the project presentations last week.


(3) Initial Thoughts About the Brief

I know that we have only just received the brief, but I wanted to record a couple of my thoughts so far. This is especially because after hearing the brief I went to take a look at the space under consideration, and I could not help but be struck by several details. These observations are what lead me to want to include this section in this post.

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(4) Take-Aways from Roberto Casati’s 2/15 Lecture

It was a great honor to be able to attend Roberto Casati’s lecture this afternoon. I took some notes, and wanted to include some of the take-aways from the talk regarding the definition of design (or, more specifically, the lack of necessity for such a definition). The key points that really stuck with me are included below.

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(5) Highlights From Class Readings

I have been taking notes of the daily/weekly class readings, and wanted to note two concepts/details that I have found particularly interesting and important.

  • First, from The Wayfinding Handbook by David Gibson (2009), in Section 1.2 The Spectrum of Projects, he notes that successful wayfinding necessitates that designers fully understand three things: 1) the nature of the client organization, 2) the people with whom the organization communicates (i.e. the people that the wayfinding project is supposed to help), and 3) the type of environment in which the system will be installed. I found this particularly important because it shows how complex, dynamic, and multi-faceted the wayfinding designer’s job is, and how important lots of research, surveys, effective communication, and competence about environments and materials is to a designer in order to have a truly complete picture of the situation. I will take this three-part approach to addressing wayfinding issues as I continue to develop my individual wayfinding project (and, now, the class project as well).
  • Second, from Wayshowing > Wayfinding by Per Mollerup (2013), in the chapter titled Sign Contents and in the subsection “Pictograms” (pages 106-111), Mollerup explains that there are two essential conceptual requirements for pictograms. These are: 1) the concept of motivation, which is that a pictogram must depict a concept in an easily-understandable way, and 2) convention, which is that the pictogram must be standarized through being publicized widely and used consistently. Importantly, he notes that any time a pictogram is lacking in one of these two areas, the other area becomes more that much more important (e.g. if one cannot easily read/understand a pictogram, then it must be so standardized/widespread that one is able to remember what it means anyway). I really enjoyed learning about these terms because I am very interested in graphic design, and now that I know the proper terminology and concepts regarding what makes a pictogram effective, I can apply them in practice. More importantly for this class specifically, I can now judge pictograms on signs in a more professional way, and use these two criteria to rate their efficacy.

Campus Wayfinding Ideas

Our class walks around campus have made it obvious that there are countless wayfinding issues here at NYU Abu Dhabi. My list of these issues, taken during our tours, provides only a quick look into the various problems, both small and large:

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Unfortunately, not all of the issues on campus can be fixed: many of them are a result of bad architectural design and other permanent aspects. With this in mind, I will provide a short list of a few project ideas. These are a combination of a) my personal preferences, in terms of what I would personally like to work on, and b) what might be possible to do in one semester by a small group of students. I do not have my heart set on any of them, and may be missing or forgetting some other wayfinding issue on campus that I might love to work on. In short, consider the list simply as project ideas/suggestions that would benefit from more discussion and insight. I also look forward to hearing (or reading) about what everyone else in class would be passionate about working on this semester.

Lastly, in regards to how exactly we go about these projects, I believe that it all has to do with project size and feasibility. If it is a very large project, perhaps the whole class should work together. If the class is torn between two different projects, both of manageable sizes, then splitting the class into two groups who will work on two different projects is desirable. In general, I favor smaller groups (2-3 people) over larger ones, but clearly group size should depend primarily on project size.

[Note: Although there are many areas on campus that could benefit from a design makeover, I am under the assumption that as a wayfinding class our project should focus on helping people “find the way” around campus. It is with this assumption that I list the projects below.]

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Emergency Exit Design Analysis

“Is the emergency exit well-designed?”

After spending a lot of time around the exit – at the door, in the stairwell, and in the nearby hallways – taking pictures and brainstorming about design issues, I realized that a video would be the best way for me to discuss the problems I noticed regarding the emergency exit’s design.

In the video, I address the exit’s a) major design issues, b) minor design issues, as well as c) some non-design issues that also impact the emergency exit. The video is located below. If, however, anyone would like to see a transcript of the video (i.e. simply a written explanation of all the design issues I noticed), I have included one here. Please let me know what you think about my observations, and I would love to know what I have missed.

Thanks for watching!