Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

Wayfinding Design Charrettes

4. October 2007 • Dale Winling
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A local designer passes along news of a series of meetings for development of a wayfinding system downtown. Wayfinding is the process of navigating through a city or space and cities are increasingly employing signage and visual cues to make that process easier.

Last December the DDA determined a need for a wayfinding program to assist visitors to find their way to and around downtown and hired a consultant to provide wayfinding analysis and sign design for the project. The scope included main entry and directional signage from highway exits. The wayfinding analysis was excellent, but their recommended sign design left much to be desired. A number of creative professionals in town thought that Ann Arbor deserved a better effort and the DDA agreed to hold off making a decision for one month to allow a community wide blog/charrette mashup to present new designs.

There are 4 events planned…

Tuesday October 9th 7pm at the Art and Architecture School Auditorium on North Campus. A review of notable design award winners with commentary by faculty and then conversations about branding, identity and design in the public streetscape.

UPDATE: Report on Wayfinding Charrette here.

UPDATE2: First entry available here Organizers solicit comments on the designs.

An open invitation will be/have been emailed to the city’s art, architecture, design and advertising firms and individuals. Everyone in the community is invited to contribute a design. Focus will be on one standard sign type. Entry info here. Pdfs, jpegs, faxes accepted. Entries in by noon, Tuesday, October 16.

Entries will be formatted alike and identification removed. They will be mounted on 16 × 20 boards and covered with dry erase laminate. Entries will be available for viewing and scribbled commentary at two locations that week:

Tuesday and Wednesday October 16 and 17
Arbor Brewing Company 5-8pm

Thursday and Friday October 18 and 19
Location TBD; either Ann Arbor Public Library Downtown or city hall

October 19-26
Those entries that drew interest and comment will be posted on Arbor Update for further comment and conversation.

Saturday October 27 10-2pm. A charrette will be convened of 15 to 20 individuals at the offices of Grafaktri Inc. on North Main. It is hoped that a handful of good designs will rise up through the public revue and commentary process. The creators of those concepts, along with an invited group of creative professionals will participate in a 3-4 hour program that will result in a design(s) that will be presented to the DDA in an October 29th meeting.



  1. The organizers are looking for someone in the AU community to liveblog or report back on the events, so let us know if you are the intrepid individual to help facilitate this process.


       —Dale    Oct. 4 '07 - 09:37PM    #
  2. To me the most interesting thing about this article is the contrast between the content as it appears on the AU ‘front page’ and how it appears when clicked through to view just the article plus comments.

    Here’s the contrast:

    Front page: “Corbin’s wayfinding analysis was excellent, but their recommended sign design left much to be desired as it came about after several public meetings and was a compromise developed from many citizen comments. [emphasis added] A number of creative professionals thought … “

    The inside version: “The wayfinding analysis was excellent, but their recommended sign design left much to be desired. A number of creative professionals in town thought …”

    That’s an interesting bit of redaction, independently of whoever undertook it.

    I’m quite prepared to believe that ‘creative professionals’, working with no public participation on a particular design, could come up with ‘better’ designs than those that emerged from a citizen involvement in the design process. However, it’s an empirical question, the answer to which could be best explored by including Corbin’s design in the same format as the rest with no identifiers in each of the three venues for display (library, ABC, and ArborUpdate). If the design based on extensive citizen input is not included, that would suggest to me that this is more about the self-esteem of the local ‘creative community’ than the quality of the design that Corbin submitted.

    The possibility that this episode is more about the self-esteem of local ‘creative professionals’ and not about the quality of the design, is also reflected in the failure to include either working links or full URL’s to the submission guidelines, which makes ring fairly hollow the insistence that “Everyone in the community is invited to contribute a design.”

    And in conclusion, I can’t think of any reason why a preselection of entries displayed in physical venues would need to be made for publication on AU. Surely if a submission is worth the trouble of mounting it to a 16 × 20 board and treating it with dry erase laminate, then it’s worth uploading to a server the electronic file the image came from.

    Summing up, here are some suggestions:

    1. Include Corbin’s design in all venues.
    2. Include all designs for publication on AU.
    3. Publish links to submission guidelines.
    4. Push the schedule of submission guidelines a couple of weeks so that amateur hacks who were not on the original targeted list of ‘creative professionals’ might have a fair chance to compete.

    Without implementing 1-4, I’d say ‘charrette’ is almost but not exactly the right word to describe this exercise.


       —HD    Oct. 5 '07 - 03:00PM    #
  3. I’d say much of the fault is mine, HD. I can’t get the indicated pdf to upload, though we’re still trying. I also did the mismatched editing (which I’ll leave in its current form since it’s on the record).

    If you don’t mind attending and reporting back on the process, I’m sure all involved will be appreciative.


       —Dale    Oct. 5 '07 - 03:19PM    #
  4. To follow up on HD’s suggestions;

    1. Yes, all of Corbins designs will be included. Some members of the DDA felt that some of Corbin’s earlier designs were more interesting that what came out of the process of citizen input. They will all be included.

    2. All designs will be posted on AU.

    3. the Link are fixed.

    4. The DDA set the tight timeframe. We hope this AU posting will get the word out. We’re more interested in ideas, not fully rendered designs…We hope the presentation effort will help level the field for contributors.


       —WAP John    Oct. 5 '07 - 10:08PM    #
  5. We like the ones in Chicago and Paris. You know what they look like, so you can find them, but they’re not flashy, so they blend in. (except for some of the huge ones in Paris that take up most of the sidewalk)


       —M & R    Oct. 7 '07 - 06:25AM    #
  6. I’ve just updated the post, as there is a report available of the meeting last night. Don’t forget they’re accepting public submissions.


       —Dale    Oct. 11 '07 - 09:27PM    #
  7. I wish we’d try something like this in Portland.


       —Portland    Oct. 15 '07 - 11:17PM    #
  8. There is a change of dates for review, as indicated in the report (.pdf extension would be nice, btw). Entries must be in by noon, October 30. Public viewing/comments Tuesday, October 30, Arbor Brewing Company 5-8pm and Thursday and Friday November 29 and 30 at the Downtown Public Library.

    I just came from ABC a tad red-faced, believing the text above that ABC’s review was today.


       —robert s.    Oct. 16 '07 - 09:10PM    #
  9. Ex-Ann Arborianiteiswhatever, here. As another example, here’s what my organization’s installed around Center City Philadelphia.

    The designer’s site, with photos.


       —rjwhite    Oct. 26 '07 - 08:42PM    #
  10. Oh, and Portland? It looks like you folks do have some of this, somewhere.


       —rjwhite    Oct. 26 '07 - 08:46PM    #
  11. RJ, I meant to tell you once before that I really got a kick out of “The City Desk.” It’s so deadpan and droll that I kept reading and asking myself WHICH city? Where? Really? I had to google a couple of names you referenced before I figured it out. And then the question was why? Which made me doubt the conclusion I had drawn.

    Anyway, I never actually book marked the site, so I only check it when you post here (and at aaio?), but it’s very nicely done—whatever it is.


       —Parking Structure Dude!    Oct. 26 '07 - 09:18PM    #
  12. Wow, cool- thanks. As long as the lying works, that’s the important thing.


       —rjwhite    Oct. 27 '07 - 01:17AM    #
  13. Apparently there’s a design review event at ABC tonight (see Local Events calendar at right of this page.) I hope some of you will attend and report to us here.


       —Steve Bean    Oct. 30 '07 - 07:52PM    #