Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

Wayfinding Designs 2

31. October 2007 • Dale Winling
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After a few events, participants in the downtown wayfinding design charrettes have been submitting designs.

Would these help you get around downtown? Do they make you want to go places? Stop by the Ann Arbor Public Library Thursday and Friday, where these will be on display and available for scrutiny. Feel free to share your comments here, as well.

UPDATE: The DDA and consensus choice here which will go before the DDA.

Submissions 1
Submissions 2



  1. I like the #2 design, with a few comments. I don’t get some of the detailing, but what this reminds me of are the 20s-ish wooden signs at crossroads saying “Austin 100 miles ->,” "<-Tulsa 500 miles," “Dallas 100 miles^.” (Don’t ask me where that would put you).

    Going with that theme or at least that functional idea without overdesigning it would make me happy.


       —Dale    Oct. 31 '07 - 08:38PM    #
  2. The thing on the top left looks like a Brontosaurus.

    I think they should use some nice modern Euro/Canadian-style sans serif designs.


       —Brandon    Oct. 31 '07 - 08:44PM    #
  3. I like the “look” of #2—as Dale said, it is reminiscent of the crossroads signs from the early part of the 1900s (or at the Ren Fest, come to think of it). But (warning! warning! teacher of the visually impaired checking in!) would the print be big enough for our friends who have low vision (i.e. who can’t see well but aren’t braille readers)? Having said that though, I guess it would be the same or bigger than what we have now??
    I like #4 because it’s less cluttered and easier to read.
    Nice idea!


       —TeacherPatti    Oct. 31 '07 - 09:11PM    #
  4. Are these meant to be read from cars? If so, #2 might not be so hot, as some of the signs would be at weird, un-visible angles from the flow of traffic. Speed of traffic would also affect necessary font size.

    As a pedestrian wayfinding design, though, I do like #2 the best. The bauble on top seems a little “Daily Planet” to me, though. Maybe something based on the tree from the City’s logo?

    I like the general shape of #3 better than #4; I’m happy with the text and arrow style on #4, though. (Time for a mash-up?)

    #1 I like least. It’s a little too cute.

    Overall, I think I’d like #3/4 for vehicular wayfinding at major entrances to downtown, and #2 for more pedestrian-oriented wayfinding within downtown.


       —Murph.    Oct. 31 '07 - 11:11PM    #
  5. Oh good lord. What are they trying to do, turn this poor town into Mackinac Island?

    C’mon people, the concept of wayfinding is fine, but lets do it 21st century style, not 19th.


       —Laura Fisher    Nov. 1 '07 - 02:40AM    #
  6. What would that entail? LEDs?


       —Dale    Nov. 1 '07 - 03:02AM    #
  7. “What would that entail? LEDs?”

    That’s one direction to take it. If it’s not defined as a design problem, but rather a technology problem, then it possible to imagine the following kind of solution.

    (1) Each sign has a display based on one of the ‘smart paper’ technologies (Gyricon was a local Ann Arbor Xerox spinoff that had such technology … but they’ve folded), which means that the display of the sign itself requires no electricity. Energy is consumed only to change the content of the sign.

    (2) Each sign has its own IP address, to which content updates can be broadcast.

    The chief advantage of such a system would be flexibility. For example, they could be used to help direct folks to the best available parking at any given time. The same sign might sometimes direct folks to the 4th and William parking structure or sometimes to the Ashley structure, depending on what the vacancy of each structure is.

    Judging by ‘design’ standards, these big rectangles (_maybe_ with rounded corners) would be the plainest vanilla imaginable. But functionally they would blow any fixed signage system away. And in terms of branding, nothing says ‘technologically cutting edge community’ better than deploying such technology. So the branding message is conveyed by the medium itself. No slogans, logos, symbols required.

    Gyricon thought the market for such technology was retail store signage. They were apparently wrong about that. And because they’re not around, they’re not a possible vendor for such technology.

    Still, I’d be curious to know if this problem was ever defined as a ‘technology problem’ as opposed to a ‘design problem’. Perhaps it was, and the sort of solution I’ve sketched out was rejected as either not actually available, or else just too expensive.


       —HD    Nov. 1 '07 - 04:33AM    #
  8. I hate to say this, but since these things must be readable from cars, I favor the design with the largest print.


       —David Cahill    Nov. 1 '07 - 01:31PM    #
  9. “I hate to say this, but since these things must be readable from cars, I favor the design with the largest print.”

    Not to keep beating the drum of signs that have electronically update-able content, BUT with such a system, if there’s a general consensus that the print is too small, well, bump up the font size—although size alone might not be the most important consideration.

    There’s actually been a fair amount of recent media coverage on readability of signs. NY Times Magazine had a long article on the evolution of a new font designed for highway signs, which is optimized to still be readable even when blurry. Let’s use that font for this wayfinding project, please.

    The effort to improve readability fits in with an interest in keeping roads safe in the context of an aging population with crappy eyesight. That’s part of the impetus behind the reflective pads that have begun to appear on poles for stop signs, yield signs, and the like.


       —HD    Nov. 1 '07 - 03:00PM    #
  10. The sign system originally proposed by Corbin featured Clearview, the new highway font covered in the Times article.


       —Jill    Nov. 1 '07 - 08:35PM    #
  11. Electronic paper signs probably won’t work because of the climate (I worked for Gyricon, but E-ink probably has the same issues with cold and hot). You’d need temp and humidity controlled cases for your signs. Plus, they get really pricey at larger sizes.

    It seems like people think that coming up with a usable signage system is somehow all about picking out a cute design and a nice font.
    There needs to be a clear plan for keeping these things up to date, for language used (do you use proper names, functional designators, etc?), the intended user group (peds? drivers? people looking for specific businesses or people looking to kill a few hours ‘downtown’?), and for where you direct people (There’s Hill Auditorium! Wait, now where do we park?!).

    Good signage is usually very, very narrowly targeted at a specific group of people (think big red hospital Emergency Room signs) and is almost never cute. Using color and design as a cue to create some hierarchy is as close to pointless as you can get. There’s also a world of difference between creating signs for a limited-access divided highway and signs for an already cluttered visual environment.

    My guess is that people are not avoiding Ann Arbor because it’s hard to navigate or doesn’t have enough cute signs. I say we just draw neon green arrows on the pavement pointing towards Zingerman’s and leave it at that.

    P.S. I highly recommend Kevin Lynch’s “The Image of the City” for its insight into how people navigate cities.


       —Patrick Austin    Nov. 2 '07 - 02:34PM    #
  12. Patrick, would you share a brief summary of Lynch’s book that you think is relevant to our considerations here? TIA.


       —Steve Bean    Nov. 2 '07 - 03:21PM    #
  13. The DDA has already gone through the process Patrick is referring to.

    They’re now trying to come up designs that meet those needs AND are acceptable to the general public. I was at the first meeting where they released the initial designs to the general public, and the majority of the public comments weren’t really helpful (things were said like ‘i don’t like them’ – that really isn’t usable feedback when you’re trying to move a project forward).

    I don’t envy the DDA’s role in this project. It’s something that’s been going on for years now in one form or another, and nobody wants to compromise their area’s identity (the color system is a political compromise of sorts).

    I’m not saying that the current designs are the finalized solution, but they’re not horrible either (designs 4 and 6 are very functional). For whatever reason, this project seems to affect most people on a visceral level. They could create fifty different designs and probably would not get consensus on any of them.

    This discussion is probably going to continue forever unless the DDA draws the line at some point and says ‘we’re going with this’.


       —kena    Nov. 2 '07 - 08:17PM    #
  14. Bumped to reflect the update.


       —Dale    Nov. 12 '07 - 09:40PM    #
  15. Everything about getting around Portland, Oregon is easy. Driving, walking… everything.
    The things that impressed me most when driving were the signs 500 ft. before intersections that said “next signal: ‘street name’”. That is just so smart. How often have you been in the wrong lane when approaching an intersection and been forced to turn around to go back to make your intended turn?
    There were also these:
    http://www.portlandonline.com/shared/cfm/image.cfm?id=150334

    I’ve traveled extensively, and Portland was the first city i’ve been to where i felt like i could competently get around without a map.
    I don’t care what the hell the signs look like. i want them to accurately tell me information on several levels in a standard format. Show me a map oriented in the proper direction from which i’m viewing it. Show me where I am. And show me where i might like to go. That’s all I ask.


       —donna    Nov. 17 '07 - 08:57AM    #