What is Placemaking and Identity?

The Mexico Olympics Graphic Identity and Placemaking design by Lance Wyman

Placemaking is the design activity that uses communications to create experiences that connect people to place. Identity design creates a strong sense of “you are here” by differentiating a place or space from others through the use of graphic elements such as type, color, pattern, video and motion. Placemaking and Identity design use the combination of physical features sometimes natural and others man-made, people, function, history, culture, and potential that make the place unique to accentuate the experience of and identity of that place.

One of the earliest, most widely recognized and memorable placemaking projects was the work of Lance Wymanon the 1968 Mexico Olympicswhich took the integration of graphic communication in the built environment to new levels of excellence using bold culturally inspired patterns in black and white as the theme for the development of an all encompassing placemaking and Identity program.

Placemaking and Identityis a multidisciplinary approach to the planning, design, and development of  public spaces.It uses materiality, form, and context to express the uniqueness of the place and inspire, engage, connect, and call users to action. Shown below is a good example from Mayer/Reed's workin Portland to connect where you are on the Eastbank Esplanadein Portland to the relative position in the city, despite the fact that the walk is cut off from the city by a major highway.

Portland Eastbank Esplanade Design by Bruce Forster and Mayer Reed

Some of the industry verticals that Placemaking enhances are education,corporate,transportation,retail,sportsand, urban and civicenvironments. Click on these links to see award winning examples of Placemaking and Identity projects that represent excellence in the craft. Perhaps the easiest example to use to demonstrate the power of Placemaking and Identity is to look at the typical game day experience in a major football stadium such as the Minnesota Vikingsexample below by Infinite Scaleat the US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

USBank Stadium Placemaking Design by Infinite Scale

Experiential Graphic Designers use the principles of communication design to make urban plans clear and understandable to visitors. Experiential Graphic Designersplaces the user at the center of their human centered design process, whereas urban planning deals with the infrastructure, layout, zoning and other laws and the flow of traffic through spaces. Experiential Graphic Designers ensure that the place defined through urban planning is then brought to life in such a way that the place clearly communicates it's purpose; who and what is contained within the space, and clearly expresses it's cultural and artistic significance to the visitors such as the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorialby Cloud Gehshan Associatesbelow

American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial in Washington D.C. designed by Cloud Gehshan

In Experiential Graphic Design,Placemaking and Identity encompasses a collaborative design approach involving multiple disciplines such as urban planners, landscape architects, architects, interior designers, fabricators, developers, clients and the public who will visit the place. It takes these multiple points of view and synthesizes them using design methodologies to arrive at a solution that express the essence of a place visually. Sometimes the results of these collaborations can result in iconic projects such as the LAX gateway project by Selbert Perkins Design.The gateway was developed to welcome the world to Los Angeles and as a landmark, represents the energy, diversity, excitement, and unity of LA.

The LAX Gateway designed by Selbert Perkins Design, LA

Gateways and markers, interpretive exhibits and signage, monumental sculpture, public art, and branded graphics are some of the many devices used to communicate a sense of place to visitors. Brand design is often employed to create a unique graphic identity that contributes to the sense of place and unique identity.

Nowhere is that more effectively employed than Disneyland. Created and developed by the Walt Disney Imagineeringgroup

Walt Disney Imagineering

Effective Placemaking and Identity design happens in collaboration with the people who live in, work in, or use the space. At its best, it can be a transformative design process that inspires people to create and improve the places where they live, work, learn, shop, play, and gather.

In the last decade there has been an increasing focus on placemaking within public spaces such as hospitals and schools. Not surprisingly as these institutions have been in serious neglect for many decades and if there is any place where you would want your spirits uplifted and be able to easily find your way around, it has to be a hospital as is evident from this work by dotdash,in Brisbane Australia for the Brisbane Hospital.

Colorful environmental graphics wrap around corners and help lighten the environment.

Very often successful placemaking projects are combined with strong wayfinding systems. This is not surprising seeing as many surveys, especially those conducted by hospital systems point to wayfinding being the number one driver of customer satisfaction. It stands to reason, if you cannot find your way around a hospital, that the rest of the experience would very quickly collapse. The importance of Wayfinding is just as important is schools where the visitors are often young, may not be able to read signs and numbers yet and therefore need strong visual cues to help them navigate a space and understand it. A good example of this is the work of Brittney Butlerfor the Discovery Elementary School in Arlington, Virginia.

Discovery Elementary School in Arlington Virginia by Brittney Buttler of VMDO Architects

Find Designers and Design Agencies who can help you transform your place into something extraordinary and compelling for your patients, clients, users or the public. Just scroll down the page to the sections Placemaking and Identity Specialists and Placemaking and Identity Firms.

For more information on Placemaking and Identity visit our Index of content related to the exciting profession of Experiential Graphic Design.

Here you will find Feature Articles, Awards, Blogs, Members who specialize in Placemaking and Identity, Placemaking and Identity Firms, SEGD Talks video presentations from all of our events over the past 4 years and Podcasts about the discipline of Placemaking and Identity.

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