Creating a signage system for Chelsea College of Art

For my second year Final Major Project (FMP) I decided I wanted to take on a real-world task that played to my strengths of functional, human-based design. 

The signage system at my uni (University of the Arts London, Chelsea College of Arts) has many problems which were noticeable from the first time I stepped into the building for my Interview nearly 2 years ago. (It started with me originally going to the wrong block of the campus). For my FMP I decided to redesign the wayfinding system and create a system standards specification so new signage could be created to match my style. 

Currently, the college has 2 systems in place which are both fighting for attention and are both poorly designed. A metallic modular system is used across most of the college however it is severely outdated and has a confusing type hierarchy and poorly designed icons. The second system is a makeshift solution by the estate's team and uses laminated, coloured paper in clip-on frames. This newer system makes it easier to find locations due to the wording, however, the poor design makes it hard to read and the whole look lacks authority and credibility. The signs use black text on coloured paper and after being laminated, they can be very hard to read making it frustrating if you are new to the campus or don't know exactly where you are going.

 The Current Signage Systems

The Current Signage Systems

I started by carrying out research, looking at different wayfinding systems and examining the existing system around the college. I took photos of the different types of signage around my campus and using and iPad I annotated all of the features of the signage design. I highlighted what worked and what didn't. This gave me a really good understanding of why the current system was so unsuccessful and why so many people were having trouble with it.

I looked at a lot of examples of current wayfinding signage in the real world, as well as some key signage designers such as Massimo Vignelli and Donald Meeker. I fully immersed myself into their work to get a clear understanding of why some systems work better than others and why signage systems such as the New York Subway system by Vignelli was so iconic. One of the key things I picked up on was: don't try to be too clever, the main priority for a wayfinding system is that it clearly communicates to viewers where to go. That has to be the main focus otherwise the whole system becomes redundant. 

 The Standards Manual for the New York Subway Signage, designed by Massimo Vignelli

The Standards Manual for the New York Subway Signage, designed by Massimo Vignelli

I started with lots of different experimental ideas using coloured lines to lead the way, and large 3D arrows fixed on the wall but as I learned from my earlier research, a well made, simple solution would be much more successful for this environment; especially where there are confusing room numbers and lots of facilities to be listed. I started on a design which would form the basis for my wayfinding system. I now had to work out and refine the details such as type sizes, icons and colours.

 Concepts and experiments with different ideas

Concepts and experiments with different ideas

When we refer to facilities we call them by their names such as the Lecture Theatre or the Graphic Design Studios, many of the outdated signs refer to these locations as their room numbers instead, so for my system, I made sure the commonly used names were mentioned. Room numbers still feature but for the main facilities which are used by every course, they are labelled by name, not number. Something I realised from the research stage was that facilities such as the Library or Print Workshops are used by the majority of students from every course, however, some rooms are only used by a handful of students on specific courses. The facilities which are used by every course needed to be much more prominent on the signage, as more people will be looking for them. So I created a system that gives each popular facility a unique colour, meaning if you are looking for the Lecture Theatre, all you have to do is follow the signs with blue panels on. 

For the typography, I used Apple's San Francisco, and Google's Roboto typefaces which were specifically designed for increased readability. For a wayfinding system, this would help signs to be clearly read from a further distance. I made sure there was a clear distinction between floor markers and block labels, as previously the floors and blocks were a confusing system. Each block now has its own vibrant colour which makes it really fast and easy to identify which block you are in. I also made sure the iconography had a clear, consistent style throughout and I wanted to make sure it matched the signs, so the icons have straight edges to link them with the type and rounded corners to match the rounded sign edges.

After finishing the designs digitally I wanted to make some full-scale signs to see if they really work. I printed and mounted the signs, and put them up on various walls around the college. It was really great to see them up and I received a lot of positive feedback from people on my course. After putting the signs up the project felt much more complete as I had a physical, tangible outcome as the result of my work. It was also much easier to see what needed to be changed or modified.

When presenting my work it received all positive feedback which was really good to hear. I was pleased with the outcome of this project as I successfully achieved what I set out to do. I responded to the needs of the college and created a new, clear system that tried to fix all of the previous problems with the wayfinding signage. I think my process for this project worked well and I really looked at the needs of the people who would be viewing the signs, and this gave me a clear understanding of what needed to be done to create a successful system. Designing a whole system instead of just a few signs was key as it meant I had to think about how it how the design would work and adapt to different buildings and areas within the college. I really enjoyed this project as one of my strengths is creating functional communication design so this allowed me to use my skills I'm a new direction as I have never worked on a whole wayfinding system before. It was also rewarding as then the signs were up for a brief period, it was good knowing that I helped people find their way. 

My Final Presentation