The University of the Arts London team realized that temporary workspace culture is a fast-emerging market in the 21st Century and part of the growth of that trend has been driven by a desire to support creative entrepreneurialism in high-rent cities and temporary architecture to act as a platform for creative experimentation. Design-led furniture companies have targeted this trend with ready-to-buy furniture that is sustainable and reusable for temporary spaces.
Flexible signage systems for these spaces are not a new concept, however, the purpose of this practice-based research was to design an off-the-shelf signage system that eliminated the need for costly and time-consuming design consultancy. More importantly, this signage system would empower users of a space to install and rearrange signs themselves, with the primary influence being their own environmental experience of the workspace. Passive readers and compliers of temporary signage would become active communicators within their ever-changing environments.
This project was the research outcome of a Master of Communication Design from the University of the Arts London. The solution utilized playful prototyping and intensive immersion in the process of designing an instinctive, DIY signage system, which was installed and rearranged by users of the space. The solution, “Any > Which > Way,” relied on users’ knowledge of a building to influence how the signage system gets used. What sets the Any > Which > Way signage system apart from purpose-built signage systems is a much simplified and more affordable process from order to implementation.
The Any > Which > Way wayfinding tool encompasses a custom-designed stencil typeface, coordinating pictograms and a modular three-piece signage system. The system is efficiently and affordably fabricated on a CNC router out of sustainable materials. The custom-designed typography and pictograms are key in ensuring that all elements of the signage can be milled with one drill on a CNC machine, and remain stable and distinguishable as cutout forms.
To achieve future-proof flexibility, the University of the Arts London signage system was rigorously tested and refined into a simple, resolved product. Simplicity is not only the absence of complexity but the accessibility of function. The success of Any > Which > Way was further established through comprehensive visual language.
The University of the Arts London team discovered that if a sign’s icon is not immediately recognizable, its purpose becomes distinguishable in its environmental context. A person with continued experience within an environment can then quickly learn and decipher a signage system that maintains consistent visual style and cues.
Every designer must balance ideals against the physical challenges faced during a project; the ideals prioritized for Any > Which > Way were affordability, flexibility, ease-of-installation and accessible adaptability. These were brought together to create an off-the-shelf product that could enable users to shape their own wayfinding experience.
The future applications of this project are far-reaching: The off-the-shelf and made-to-order distribution of this design system could save companies huge amounts of money and time. This system allows companies, particularly those for which managing expenses is a daily struggle, to utilize an affordable wayfinding system of high-quality build, materials and aesthetic in ever-changing spaces, instead of traditional systems designed for one space and for one user group.
Emme Jacob (design, research)
University of the Arts London: Ravensbourne
Aldworth James & Bond (primary fabricator, plywood CNC cutting), Emme Jacob (prototyping, painting, finishing)