By Kishani de Silva, Principal at 2A+D, Arts, Architecture and Design Management, Los Angeles, USA
The importance of signage
Where am I?
Signage and wayfinding is fundamental to the way we operate. Whether as a passenger on the London Underground, a driver speeding along the Californian freeways, finding the right concourse at international airports—whether it be in Seoul, Beijing, Paris or New York or navigating through 2m square feet of retail/entertainment space in the mixed-use environment of Dubai Festival City, Signage and wayfinding is critical to us getting from A to B with ease and on schedule. One is guided through, and to one’s destination with seeming ease by the artistic talents of various creatives— signage & graphic designers, wayfinding experts, specialist fabricators, installers and of course branding gurus. The collective talent of these specialist designers is what makes the journey and the experience so seamless.
We are hard-wired to feel vulnerable when we don’t “know the way”. In our cave-man days this would indicate to us the need for caution as we would most certainly be in danger from predators and also, simply, not being able to find our way back to our cave. The feelings of panic, foolishness and anger that we feel now when we can’t find the entrance to a shop, our flight gate at the airport or the turning off the A370 stem from these early days of our existence.
Sell, direct, inform or warn
From the very grand and elitist boutique to the everyday storefront or mundane highway exit sign, sometimes sinuous sometimes seductive and quite often thoroughly minimalist, signage and wayfinding tools are our constant companion. Whether we are aware of it, or know how much thought and detail goes into creating such an integrated and seamless passage for the end user, is another matter entirely.
Let’s take a look at the consequences of not having an integrated wayfinding system in place; you could be late to work, miss your client meeting, get yourself completely lost or be marooned in a cold and dingy airport for having missed your flight. Sounds familiar? Probably so. On the other hand, 99.9% of the time we get to where we want, thanks to the experts that managed to organize the chaos for us.
From conceptualizing to designing, fabricating and installing, the process itself may not be so seamless. A team of design experts collaborate to create the most effective and efficient sign, and in the process create a piece of art that combines both form and function, fulfilling the most basic of design briefs—”it must attract”—or we will not follow.
One of the reasons wayfinding works when it works is the iconic nature of the end-product. It must stand-out in the most mundane of environments or seduce and entice in a sensory overload situation. Piccadilly Circus and the Vegas strip come to mind. The juxtaposition of color, size and form of billboards, signage and wayfinding must sometimes contrast and conflict both with its context and the architectural elements of its surrounding to create the statement it must. In so doing, inadvertently, it adds value to the built environment, to the user and the product it is trying to advance.
Materials such as glass, aluminium and steel together with a sophisticated palette of finishes helps entice, seduce and call to us.