Architects and interior designers need graphic designers

A Sunday morning visit to a library in my local area both delighted and frustrated me. The building had recently been refurbished by the council, who had engaged one of Adelaide’s most reputable architecture firms to undertake the design. The result is wonderful—the building is warm and inviting, the materials and colour selections are contemporary and some of the architectural details are unique and visually quite splendid.

Unfortunately the frustration I felt with the building began not long after setting my excited eyes on it for the first time. As I passed through the main entrance, which was well designed by the architects to look and function like an entrance, I became confused. There was a double sliding glass door that separated the foyer I was in from the main library. I immediately knew the wayfinding system (or lack thereof) was dysfunctional: I had no idea how to enter the library. No idea which side of the glass door I should approach and no idea if it was an automatic sliding door or if I had to push a button somewhere to open it. And crucially, there were no signs telling me where or how to enter. Eventually I did work it out, but it was a slightly embarrassing process.

On returning to this same library for a second visit, I thought I might have learned the entry process and would remember it. However I found myself just as confused the second time around.

Inside the library the fluidity with which I was able to move around the building improved, yet as a visual communicator I was now fully focused on finding improvement in the wayfinding system. I was disappointed to discover that the internal signs were not much better. The imagery was uninspiring to say the least and the typography was both boring and difficult to read. Even the Council’s logo had been mounted on a wall like an afterthought. There was a significant and noticeable gap between the amount of thought that had gone into the design of building and the amount of time that had been spent developing the wayfinding and environmental signs. This gap left the signs looking like a superficial afterthought.

I am not suggesting that building design and sign design need to have equal amount of development, but the proportion was most certainly out of scale. Great interiors integrate typography and imagery into the overall design strategy. So it is imperative that architects, interior designers, Councils and other building managers engage graphic designers early on in the development of new spaces. Especially those spaces that a large number of people are going to visit.

Good graphic designers are trained in the art of typography, the science of legibility and the profession of visual communication. A good interior can be complimented by visually interesting images and words that are integrated into the building designer’s vision. An early collaboration between the building designers and sign designers would have created a system which was both visually engaging and less frustrating.

Please feel welcome to contact me with your opinion, comments or questions related to this article.

Frank Stillitano MDIA

Accredited Designer and founder of Flux Visual Communication