“To become completely lost is rather a very rare experience for most people. But let the mishap of orientation once occur, and the sense of anxiety and even terror that accompanies it reveals to us how closely it is linked with our sense of balance and well-being. The very word lost in our language means much more than simple geographical uncertainty; it carries overtones of utter disaster.” – Kevin Lynch, Image of the City.
Signage is often considered the negligible entity of urban design. Put up a few blue boards and yellow posts, and signage is assumed done. But what many do not understand is that signage defines the purpose of the project – Navigation. The need to make a space legible should be considered as a very major principle for any urban design project. A project without signage is like making it dumb. It does not communicate.
Wayfinding is no signage. Wayfinding involves architectural, technical and logical reasoning and Signage is only one of the quantitative end products. Signage is graphic communication that involves the necessity for a sensitive and individualistic approach. Any signage system encompasses architecture, landscape architecture, lighting, and landmarks and orientation points. Spaces should be designed to aid users in solving spatial problems by delivering consistent cues.
Working out wayfinding for Muziris Heritage Project involved various scales of work. Since it is a huge scale, it is important to look at the subject at different levels. Macro-level planning and micro-level problem solving were done. The signage and navigation maps had to be worked out for the entire area and individual project areas. Interior signage was also a part of it. The navigation process for any project or destination begins even before the user enters the site. It commences the moment a person becomes aware of its existence. An assumption or visualization of the place always begins even before the user visits the place. This assumption could be precise or vague depending on the information and data inputs received by the user. So, solutions had to be derived commencing from this point.
Similar to any other entity of urban design, signage is also user-oriented and user-dependent. Probable users had to be zeroed on to for better performance, but also has to be universally designed. Some of the major categories were, foreign or native, if native, literate or illiterate, kids or adults, vehicular or pedestrian. These criteria differed from project to project and location to location. So we had to arrive at a method of categorizing. Thus, a hierarchy of categorization was adopted, based on the macro and micro levels of planning.
User comfort was also considered. Areas of predicted high visitor activity were identified and walkable distances from various points were considered. Walkable radius was finalized and probable directions were discussed. We decided that we should not restrict the flow of the user. A visitor should be allowed to traverse any part of the project area but we should make sure that they don’t get lost and they should be informed about the shortest distance to reach any place from there. This was the challenge. We had to look into various permutations and combinations. Identify various routes possible. And at the same time make sure that the short-cuts do not make the signage confusing. It should help the user orient himself.
After finalizing the position of the signage and the contents of it, based on the category and location, the type and material of the signage was decided upon. This again had a variety of options. Looking into the numerous types done all over the world, we considered factors like climate, vandalism, etc., and narrowed it down to a certain number of types.
Micro-level planning, like building signage, was done keeping two criteria in mind. One intended visitor's circulation and two emergency exit planning. In a very elusive manner, the signage dictates user circulation, where one is expected to enter and where one is prohibited to do it. Emergency exits need to be worked out for each room and position. It was to be done in a very ego-centric manner, keeping in mind the short time available for evacuation and the panic in the visitor’s mind at the time of an emergency.
Graphic Design and Symbols
One major issue that we considered was communication in a language that is universally understood, and thus we decided that we should convey the most vital information graphically. We discussed the various utilities we will have to indicate. After detailed scrutinizing we short-listed certain very essential utilities. The general methodology adopted for all signage design is to use international symbols. But most often these symbols do not satisfy the regional needs. And hence after identifying the utilities and warnings to be made into symbols, Jerome and a few others worked out a regionalized graphic design for the same.
Technical aspects like viewing distance, viewing height, viewer reaction time, legibility and negative space were considered. Various codes relating to these aspects was referred to. After developing a schematic idea for all the options, we had a brainstorming session with Mr Mahesh and Mr Rubin, for around three days where we critically analysed the issues and finalized upon the colours, the symbols, height and layout of the signage after considering their opinions too.
Unlike a usual sleepy technical session, this one was fun to do. We looked into the issue from an alternative fun perspective; this helped us liberally discuss the various possibilities and different problems in the symbols. We tried to interpret the symbols in the silliest manner possible, making sure that our symbols are not misleading to even the most dim-witted individual. Like it was often quoted “You never know!”
To know more about the Muziris Heritage Project, click on the link below: