Technology is rapidly changing the delivery systems we use to navigate the built world, but the fundamentals of wayfinding have barely changed since Kevin Lynch coined the term more than 50 years ago. Chris Caloriand David Vanden-Eynden(Calori & Vanden-Eynden / Design Consultants, New York) have developed hundreds of wayfinding systems in transportation, corporate, education, healthcare and urban environments and litearlly wrote the book on Signage and Wayfinding Design.
Keynoting SEGD’s Wayfinding event April 14-15 in Miami, the SEGD Fellows will take a critical look at the complex present and warp-speed future of wayfinding. Meet the experts in Miami!
We spoke with Calori and Vanden-Eynden this week as they prepare for the SEGD Wayfinding event.
SEGD: What’s new in wayfinding, and what will you share at the SEGD Wayfinding event?
David: Wayfinding is one of the design disciplines that has changed dramatically with the advent of digital technology. But what we find fascinating is that as much as digital technology has changed the delivery systems we use to provide wayfinding information, the fundamentals of the discipline have essentially remained the same.
Tell us what you mean by that?
Chris: There are some immutables when it comes to wayfinding. The first one is that wayfinding is all about communication. It’s one of the few areas of design where that is the primary goal, which is why “visual communication design” is synonymous with “graphic design.” Architects aren’t trained to design buildings with communication as the main focus, and neither are industrial designers with their products. For graphic designers, though, communication is the essence of what we do. And wayfinding is the best example of how essential the communication element is: we provide people with the right information, in the right sequence, to get them where they’re going.
The second immutable in wayfinding is that we develop it through a very rigorous process of design thinking. That sets our discipline apart.
And how is technology changing all of that?
David: Technology shouldn't try to alter the basic goal of communication and the process of design thinking. It may change the delivery systems for the information, but at its core, wayfinding is focused on the user’s need for information.
But technology components are being added to many or most wayfinding projects today? How should designers respond to this?
David: Definitely we see an evolution taking place in the discipline. Technology components are increasingly important and for the wayfinding design practitioner, that means that projects are becoming more and more multidisciplinary. So while we don’t need to deliver all of the technology services, we do need to know how to develop a team that can, or work effectively as part of a multidisciplinary team.
Chris: This is another example of how the more things change, the more they stay the same. EGD/XGD has always been a multidisciplinary field, so we’re quite accustomed to working on teams and collaborating with different disciplines. We have that going for us! Our teams are getting more broadly multidisciplinary.
What do practitioners and industry partners need to know about this kind of multidisciplinary collaboration?
Chris: The field of Experiential Graphic Design is now embracing an expanding skillset that is not just about static wayfinding and signage, but about the digital technology that can enrich it if done well. But people tend to lump “digital” all into one category. In fact apps for handheld devices are very different from the data management systems needed for transit screens, for example. And each of these needs a specific skillset. It’s virtually impossible for one firm to provide all of the expertise required to pull a complex, multi-channel wayfinding project together.
David: We see a trend of very large architectural and engineering firms swallowing up small design firms to bring lots of different disciplines under one roof. But not all clients are going to be able to afford or even want to work with large multi-national consulting companies. Many of them will still prefer to work with smaller boutique studios. So we need to respond by teaming with other disciplines to create these complex project teams. What we can do as smaller firms is to provide clients with a very specialized, personal kind of service.
Chris: We believe that while the boundaries between the physical and digital worlds are getting more and more porous—and for sure, technology can be seductive—we need to remember that communication is still the primary goal of wayfinding. The two worlds need to co-exist, and this is where teaming and collaboration come into play.
Get registered for the SEGD Wayfinding event in Miami April 14-15! Hurry--capacity is limited!