2013 SEGD Academic Summit

The Development and Implementation of an Interdisciplinary Foundation Program at FIT/SUNY: Thinking, Making, Doing

Leslie Blum and Donna David
Fashion Institute of Technology/State University of New York

ABSTRACT
Before students can undertake sophisticated environmental graphic design (EGD) projects, they must learn very basic skills in visualizing three-dimensional space, working in scale and “making things.” Because these skills span traditional educational boundaries and departmental programs, they often fall between the cracks. This paper explains the design of an innovative interdisciplinary foundation program at FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology), a part of the State University of New York, which incorporates “learning by doing” and teaches skills that cross the disciplines.

The program contains the traditional components of an introductory Communication Design or Graphic Design program: typography, layout, color, computer skills, design history and a generous offering of liberal arts courses. In addition, the program concentrates on integrating three-dimensional visualization, incorporating the concept of “scale," introducing “time” and “space” as part of visual language and design basics, strengthening presentation skills and professionalism, and strengthening hand skills by “making things.”

Storefronts: Lettering & Digital Technologies in the Urban Landscape

Patricia Cue
San Diego State University

ABSTRACT
Commercial storefronts play a vital role in signposting and broadcasting the cultural identity of the urban landscape. Storefront signs address basic commercial communication needs such as naming and stating the type of business, marking the location, advertising services, and attracting customers. But they also fulfill a more important need: expressing the characteristics of a given culture, and defining how that culture is represented visually. They add flavor and authenticity. They let us know, culturally and geographically, where we are.

How a culture is perceived is largely determined by how it is presented. As cultural readers and interpreters, we look for signs and symbols to help us make sense of the space around us. In an ethnic urban landscape, commercial storefront signs are powerful coded symbols that communicate a wealth of cultural information. Sign painting has traditionally been the most common and effective means of conveying that information. In the past, such signs would have been hand-painted. However, since the introduction of plastic materials, and with the dominance of digital technologies, traditional sign painting has declined in popularity, especially in major commercial centers, where it is rarely, if ever, seen. But in many ethnic areas, sign painting has managed to survive as a vernacular form of design that operates on the margins of professional design practice.

This project examines the “membrane” that separates vernacular and professional graphic design, by investigating a particular form of indigenous hand-painted murals that advertise folk music concerts in rural Mexico, and by surveying the current state of storefront designs along University Avenue and San Ysidro Boulevard in San Diego, California. The main objective is to develop models for commercially competitive design solutions that translate the visual language of traditional handmade lettering into modern sign-making technologies and materials, in order to explore culturally sensitive ways to brand small businesses in ethnic pockets within urban areas. By creating design alternatives in the form of prototypes that expand the possibilities of modern technology, this project aims to foster cultural vitality and economic prosperity for small ethnic businesses, and to advocate for the preservation of visual diversity.

Smarter Sidewalks

Brett Snyder
University of California Davis, Department of Design

ABSTRACT
How we navigate the streets has changed radically over the past decade, thanks largely to new technologies. To take just one example, smart phones have made an ever widening array of maps and information available to the public, enabling new ways of seeing and experiencing the urban landscape. iPhones allow the street to become a museum without walls, support pop-up events, and enable the creation of thematic journeys.

While our modes of navigating streets have transformed, the streetscapes themselves have remained fundamentally unchanged. We still have traffic signs, phone booths, historical plaques, and bus stops that look and operate much the way they did 20 or even 50 years ago. Why are our streets so slow to adapt? The time is ripe to reconsider how public infrastructure could operate and how it might transform the way we navigate and experience the public realm. Could there be alternative ways to access location-based information, beyond personal digital devices—ways that help make information more widely accessible to all and lower the digital divide? Could a public media infrastructure achieve secondary aims such as reducing carbon footprints and creating more habitable cities? How can the street itself learn from the open source, mobile platforms that characterize the latest turn of the digital revolution?

From Signs to Minds: Wayfinding Design and Mental Maps

Michaela Skiles

ABSTRACT
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.

Environmental Graphic Design: Changing the Perceptions of Divided Communities through Cultural and Social Connectivity

Andy Schwanbeck

ABSTACT
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.

An Interior and Graphic Design Interdisciplinary Collaboration

Miranda Hall and Nicole Bieak Kreidler
La Roche College

ABSTRACT
Design has undergone many changes over the past several decades. What was once a trade activity is now a practice-based profession that has diversified into very distinct disciplines (Buchanan, 1998). Design disciplines have worked independently until recently, when interdisciplinary collaboration has become increasingly valuable. Studies have shown that collaborative efforts can produce new and original ideas not possible in a uni-disciplinary setting (Nelson, Wilson and Yen, 2009). Too often design education lags behind what is happening within the design profession and it is for this reason that this collaboration was initiated. The decision to plan the interdisciplinary collaboration came out of a discussion of the crossover of content topics within two courses in the Design Division at La Roche College. After additional conversations and planning, it was also driven by the desire to better integrate students and initiate them as co-creators.

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