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May 21st, 2011
Left, Right, Up, Down: New Directions in Signage and Wayfinding

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CIMG6282Signage and wayfinding are integral elements for all structures. Signs help us to understand architecture and infrastructure, and communicate about the identity of a structure. Design is a key aspect for developing effective signage and this book includes a large number of international examples where design, communication and identity come togeher to help us experience spaces and places in enriched ways – through signage and wayfinding. The connection of spatial data to these processes is readily apparent. This book guides readers through new possibilities for creating enjoyable, effective experiences in modern architectural designs through visual graphics. 


New Directions in Signage and Wayfinding


Editors – TwoPoints.Net


ISBN: 978-3-89955-312-3 2010 272 pages
(English and Deutsche versions)

Review by Jeff Thurston

Left, Right, Up, Down – New Directions in Signage and Wayfinding by Gestalten Publishers in Berlin caught my attention after I had attended a workshop on Paris on the use and applications of geographic information systems (GIS) for airport management recently. At that event several international airport managers spoke about the issue of moving people through airports more effectively and efficiently. Signage and wayfinding was high on their list of interests, and they wished to couple the latest cartographic and mapping technologies and tools to the design factors of signage as they related to building architecture – improved signage design would result in improved airport infrastructure use.

For this reason the book is not only timely, but also interesting and helpful, since signage and wayfinding has important implications for modern architecture and infrastructure projects involving the movement of people. This work begins with a short interview with graphic artist Paula Scher. An educator at the New York School of Visual Arts, she is also an artist and known for her large paintings of maps. Scher points out that both architects and users of architecture are interested in signage and initiate the commissioning of this kind of work. When asked about the ‘best time’ to engage a signage professional during the project, she indicates that they are hired throughout all project phases, but projects benefit by enlisting them early on. 

Scher alludes to the connection between the building design models and graphics and the close connection to the actual building. On other words, once rendered at the model stage, graphics signage can begin development because the design rarely changes much as projects move forward. This has important clues for GIS and CAD design personnel, since much of the spatial data for a building or infrastructure can be applied to signage related questions – number of people, routing between corridors, emergency escapes and so on. 

Beginning the first chapter entitled Treating Surfaces, images such as the signage of the Kunstmuseum Dieselkraftwerk in Cottbus was created to connect the architecture between the past and present. In this case, some of the original signage of the building was included along with updated modern signage. In 2008 the Staatliche Museen in Berlin hosted the exhibition “Babylon – Myth and Truth” and included a comprehensive signage effort throughout the exhibit, including stairways.

“Speed Limits” – a Canadian Centre of Architecture exhibition by Jeffrey Schnapp was set in Luigi typeface designed by Project Projects and included historical quotations while also demonstrating a series of new digital alphabet. “Berlin-New York” by Project Projects was dveloped for the Centre of Architecture in New York. The project was based on three different neighborhoods from each city, and included complex text, graphics and data from each. 

The book describes the relationship of signage to identity of a building. Included are factors such as ‘personality’ and difference from other places, signage should not be invasive and graphics ought to be flexible enable different kinds of media to interact with it. In the case of the University of Applied Science in Wildau area Berlin, the project is described, “A former train shed had been converted into a technical university in Berlin. Wayfinding was required to identify the two new buildings within the existing hall. The specially adapted cross-hatched version of Foundry Sterling Demi remids visitors of the former hazard warnings that could be seen on the trains and machines.”

This book reminds us that signage and helpful clues for moving through structures are all around us. The many international examples of signage from for different structures provide an eye-opening panorama of design graphics for signage and how they are being applied. Invariably, signage is not only visually appealing, but acts to connect the identity and nature of a building together with efficient, but also effective, movement of people. 

TERRADESIGN was commissioned to create the signage and wayfinding for the new Black Hall, a rock and roll school recently opened in 2009. The client was the Senzoku Gakuen College of Music. Using color as the primary means of navigation, so as to preserve the atmosphere of creativity, interior lettered graphics were minimal and the result was a vibrant colored interior where colors lead people through spaces. Lisbon Seaport included signage along the cement ground surfaces of that city’s port area that aided and assisted the public to use the port spaces while ensuring they could travel and stop at appropriate places and to engage the tour paths in timely ways. 

One of the most clever uses of signage involved a project entitled “Meeting Structures” designed by Luna Maurer for the Museum De Paviljoens in Almere, The Netherlands. This work involved taking the color coded conference and meeting program and placing it on the floor of the meeting area in strategic locations. users could then look at the schedule wherever they were alone or together and the color-coded elements on the floor created designs to compliment the spaces. 

The “Nike Bench” as created Melvin Galapan for Nike is a workout bench whose surfaces include a series of lines – all found in gymnasiums and sports floors for different sports. While this is not architecture per se, it does point to the fact that different furniture and other objects can belong to certain spaces. 

Additional chapters include mounting boards, shaping forms, deforming shapes, spatial experiences and shifting lights. Nearly every page of this book include images from the actual buildings and structures that are applying the various techniques and methods for signage and wayfinding. 

In Melboure, Australia designer Axel Peemöller set about to create a navigation system for an underground garage. Using a unique approach he designed the signage in such a way that the letters criss-crossed the walls and floors in various shapes and patterns, but, when standing at the correct places where decisions to go up or down were required, the signage was easily readable and visible. This connection shows the power of placing signage at the correct places – the moment when one begins to think about moving somewhere else depending on how the physical structure looks. 

The use of light and projection are also important elements for creating signage and communicating wayfinding possibilities both within and outside of buildings. Indeed, the use of light can be exploited based upon time or specific kinds of environments. Raised lettering, gaming and learning are also factors in helping to engage people and to communicate with them. 

In summary, I find this book fascinating. It is eye-opening because many times I have seen similarities to some of the examples, and in some cases the actual examples during my travels, where I have been touched or caught in their wonderous touches. In that sense I am almost sure that many readers will have had similar experiences.

Left, Right, Up, Down – New Directions in Signage and Wayfinding will be immediately understandable to those working with spatial data, GIS, geospatial tools, catography and mapping. It will also be appreciated by those involved in CAD design, architecture and construction for similar reasons. For those who want to add value to their infrastructure and spatial data using GIS and Building Information Modeling (BIM) tools, this book has unique and important guides for connecting infrastructure communications to building operations and use – based on spatial data – signage and wayfinding sit on nodes and networks within layers.

In a sense this book acts as a source book for applying specific kinds of graphics to specific kinds of spaces. And although each environment may have many possibilities creatively, there are examples of practice that are being used and shown in this book, that begin to set out starting points for those interested in this work. 

This book includes explanations for each of the many graphic examples included and the accompanying photograph. It is well documented and filled with existing examples about signage and wayfinding for architecture and infrastructure. It captures the essence and practicality of both design and mobility, providing readers with the knowledge for creating, thinking about and experiencing spaces in ways they could not have imagined yesterday before reading it.  

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