DB: please could you tell us how you came to work on the type of projects you do now? IC: I originally worked in a large multi-disciplinary design studio environment and after a while, I developed an ambition to form a small, specialist studio. IC: we are a team of five designers, or occasionally six depending on workload, with a core of three of us who have been together for ten years. I like working as part of a team and I also enjoy being a sort of team mentor, getting the best out of everyone and forming relationships with our clients. DB: given your experience, are you able to finalize a logo or identity design quicker than you used to, or does it remain a matter of trial and error?
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We founded the firm in and started off mainly working on printed communications and identity. We began working for property development clients and that brought us into contact with architects. We had also started to work on exhibition designs — our first was with the Design Museum. It was a hotbed of amazing architectural design — Future Systems, Nicholas Grimshaw and David Morley Architects were all working there — all these amazing new buildings springing up.
The client was a really ardent supporter of good design and architecture. That project got us started off in the field of wayfinding and signage. How do you integrate graphic design and architecture? We always start with a firm understanding of the architecture. By working in a very integrated way with the rest of the team you develop an intimate understanding of the architectural concept. What you are really doing is helping to reinforce the concept through wayfinding and signage.
You are making the building more legible for the visitors. We are providing a layer within the architecture and obviously we also have the visitor firmly in mind. Wayfinding is about understanding the visitor journey How would you describe the difference between wayfinding and signage? Signage is one tool we use to create legible environments. Wayfinding starts with the architecture and the way the space is designed.
Wayfinding cues and clues can be found within the architecture and the landscape environment. How do you approach wayfinding in different building types? Fundamentally it is the same, regardless of typology.
It is about understanding the visitor journey through the building and gaining an understanding of how the visitor will use the space.
With new buildings we work from plan; but with old buildings we apply observational studies. How do you ensure that wayfinding and signage are integrated with the architecture? It is very important for us to establish a close working relationship with the architect. Primarily we are brought in by the client because they want us to do a job based on visitor experience, but you have to work with the architect very closely in order to achieve that successfully.
On some projects we are asked to work on there is no architectural intervention happening at all, for example on our commission for Selfridges. For that project we analysed and observed and interviewed. How do you make wayfinding and signage clear and easy to understand?
There are certain rules you use in terms of size and legibility of type from certain distances. The Disability Discrimination Act sets out certain requirements that you cannot deviate from.
There are also techniques of materiality and lighting you can use. But the key thing is testing and sampling as much as possible in the environment at hand. We always want to design something that employs the least number of signs possible. We want to have uncluttered spaces. If you start to introduce too many elements, that can be as difficult to understand as not having any signs at all.
There are always trends in design. We are moving more towards wayfinding apps. They are becoming a more common tool and are increasingly sophisticated. But not everyone will use them, so you have to provide for wayfinding within the physical world as well as the virtual one. In the future digital will have much more prominence. You worked on the legacy-stage wayfinding for the London Aquatics Centre.
What did you have to do there? We were appointed by Zaha Hadid Architects. Show Fullscreen Barbicanwayfinding climage10 The Barbican Centre Were there any particular challenges to working on the wayfinding for the Barbican Centre?
It is such a well-known and well-loved building. We worked on the Barbican Centre with Morag Myerscough. It was an interesting project because the Barbican was notoriously difficult to navigate.
Everyone in the team had a passion for that building. It is still a difficult building to navigate because it has some very dense concrete columns which are in quite close proximity to each other and that closes down sightlines. It has some inherent difficulties. It did mean we could be quite bold with our graphic elements. Can you describe your work on Tate Modern? It is an all-encompassing project. What we do there is really about visitor experience.
Yes, it is about navigating the building, but it is also about the materials that a visitor comes into contact with during their visit — from printed maps and guides to apps. Everything has to work together holistically. Because it is by type an industrial building, everything is quite raw and direct. It is all directly applied to the surfaces of the concrete or painted walls — almost in a fly-posted way. It is very important that you feel like you are entering a former power station.
They really elevated that and made it part of the experience. Here it was about understanding the visitor profile and the visit types — whether you were coming for a single exhibition, to spend time browsing in the museum or just to have a coffee or meet friends.
We did a lot of workshops with the museum, getting everyone involved and looking at different spaces and scenarios. That was how we developed an understanding of how people would use the space and where wayfinding or signage was required. At the Design Museum you are working somewhere where design is the absolute driver for the project.
How does your working relationship differ on that kind of project, compared with working on a building? It is very different.
Stanton Williams is a very good example of this. We formed a relationship with them initially by designing their identity and first monograph. It was a fantastic way to get to know them and understand the whole ethos behind the practice and how they operate. Our role was to design the visitor interpretation. Good architects will recognise the contribution graphic designers can make to their buildings. Which architects do you most enjoy working with?
There are lots. We have such a close dialogue and working relationship with Stanton Williams. Cartlidge Levene projects.
Cartlidge Levene interview: ‘Wayfinding isn’t just about signs – it starts with the architecture’
ian cartlidge (cartlidge levene) interview