02 May, 2009

Getting from A to B

Posted by: admin In: Tate

Fiona Sibley goes in search of interesting signage

Without directions, how would we find our way around? One of the big tasks facing Tate Modern 2’s designers will be to create a neat system of signs to lead people through the new building.

Contemporary architecture on a big scale often needs good signage – or wayfinding – because these buildings tend to have unconventional layouts. This is so they deliver a special experience as you wander around inside them, but it also means the pathways through them aren’t always obvious.

Take the Barbican, for example. Because of its odd layout and numerous entrances, it’s long been a challenging building to navigate. In 2005, a major revamp of the foyer spaces was unveiled, including striking new signage designed by Cartlidge Levene and Studio Myerscough. You can’t miss the numerals indicating what’s on each floor, and the building’s distinctive textures are revealed through the cut-out spaces, so the signs don’t look like an afterthought.

Architects and graphic designers often collaborate to ensure that signs act harmoniously with the building. Words are the main elements used, and this gives graphic designers the chance to play around with typography – the style of the letter forms – and this can be varied endlessly to create the right mood for the place.

There is scope to be very creative with signage, and use it to enhance a building’s distinct personality. At Paris’s Cinematheque francaise, you can tell designer Ruedi Baur had a lot of freedom when creating the signs. The building is Frank Gehry-designed, and Baur created the signage using light projections. This ties thematically to cinema, and provides a uniquely beautiful – and functional – display to look at.

Lighting the way to the loo: Cinematheque francais

There’s no need to stick to putting words and arrows neatly on a wall, and designers have long been trying to break that habit. German designer Andreas Uebele’s clever design for Osnabruck University of Applied Sciences uses the corridor ceilings as a white canvas for directions to different rooms. Written in bold, black type, very large words and arrows instruct people which direction to walk in, creating a dramatic focal point overhead. No matter how busy the corridor, the directions are clear and never obscured.

Across Tokyo’s shopping malls and train stations, words and images adorn nearly every surface, and directions are even pasted onto the ground. It’s a new experience to look beneath your feet for clues to which way to go, but in a busy museum, it may be harder to get the message across.

In Amsterdam, innovative designers Experimental Jetset created some low-tech signage for the Stedelijk Museum’s temporary home, which closes in October. Numerous plastic wallets holding A4 printed sheets are used to build up large panels of information. Extra wall graphics also keep people amused as they walk up the stairs, making random sentences from the letters of the museum’s name, showing that signage can have a sense of humour.

Colour coded signage at the Aspex Gallery

Playfulness and exploration are the emotions that signs should encourage. Another Buro Uebele project – this time for an office for DGF Stoess – placed all the wayfinding directions on cubes dotted around like pieces of distinctive furniture, encouraging you to follow them around. Similar approaches use brightly-coloured lampposts or fingerposts as visual markers. At Aspex in Portsmouth, CHK Design used a colour code to denote different spaces, from the café to the education areas, on all the signs. The logo ties the scheme together by including all the colours.

So as you can see, the writing doesn’t just have to be on the wall. There are many imaginative ways of showing people from A to B. Now, where’s the café?

Read the original post on The Great Tate Mod Blog

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