Urban and Civic Research

Bridging EGD: Introducing Communities to the Potentials of Environmental Graphic Design

Justin Molloy
The University of Oklahoma

This paper discusses the potential for environmental graphic design (EGD) in emergent and small communities where both EGD and the value of design are unknown. When designers arrive in a community for the first time, they tend to notice things other people do not. Things like how information and experiences are integrated into a cityscape or neighborhood, or how a vision of a community shapes the delivery of their identity or message. When I arrived in Oklahoma nearly a year ago, I was told that there were huge opportunities for design to make an impact. Designers in Oklahoma are aware of what could be possible, but “the bridge” to make design a community focus had to date not been completed. Leaders in these communities have not been connected to the full potential that design offers. Without this knowledge base, the users of these communities do not understand what design is. A common misunderstanding that complicates matters is that design is equated as marketing. Design is mistakenly understood as the way to “dress things up” or make something “eye catching.” The incomplete part of “the bridge” is the notion that design can be a transformative mechanism that goes beyond the surface, and has the capacity to change the way we experience our present moment and envision our future.

From Signs to Minds: Wayfinding Design and Mental Maps

Michaela Skiles

When following directional signs through a new area, how much do people actually learn about the environment around them? How could you design directional signs to help people learn more? This study examines how the design of directional signs influences spatial learning, by presenting information in different spatial perspectives.

Three sign types were evaluated: Separate (directional arrows, with roads and towns on different signs), Combined (simple arrow diagrams of the intersection, with roads and towns on one sign), and Cartographic (a highly simplified map). Participants viewed a sequence of signs as if driving through a fictional environment, making turn choices according to assigned goals, and then completed a mapping task. After a second sign viewing, this time without turn decisions, participants repeated the mapping task.

For the first mapping task, participants who viewed the Cartographic signs produced more accurate maps than those viewing the Separate or Combined signs. These results suggest that guide signs with simple maps can help people incidentally learn about the spatial configuration of the environment. There was no significant difference between groups for the second mapping task, which suggests that when people are aware that they will be tested, sign type does not affect how much they can learn.

This study not only has implications for the design of directional signs, but is also an example of linking research in spatial cognition with wayfinding as a design discipline. Carried out as an undergraduate thesis, this study is evidence of an effective interdisciplinary approach to design education.


Andy Schwanbeck

This project explores the value that environmental graphic design elements can create to help promote and improve the perceptions of a neighborhood within a segregated urban landscape. Urban segregation occurs when a city’s diversities create perceived barriers around concentrated clusters of social groups. When these divisions are extreme enough, communities become shut off from the rest of the city and often fall into a perpetual cycle of struggle and degradation. Research has shown that the success of a neighborhood rests in its ability to connect with other neighborhoods and economies throughout a city. It also demonstrates that cross- participation enhances the overall capacity of a community to operate both socially and economically. In a segregated city, there is an opportunity to use environmental graphic design elements to help improve the perceptions of a divided neighborhood and reconnect it to the greater city population.

During this research, a case-study project was developed with the neighborhood East Liberty, located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Historically a thriving neighborhood, East Liberty has been plagued by over two decades of neglect and failed renewal efforts. Despite recent development efforts, many locals still avoid this area. This case study uses a combination of research tactics and design prototypes to produce elements that attempt to improve the experience of East Liberty and create more positive perceptions surrounding this area. The results from this project measured a significant improvement to the negative perceptions of East Liberty and demonstrated the potential to entice more people to visit and participate within this neighborhood.

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