London 2012 wins top accolade at
Sign Design Awards
New areas of signing and wayfinding were recognised in the Sign Design Society’s 2013 international award competition at a gala presentation ceremony last Thursday night. The ultimate accolade, the Grand Prix Award, went to the wayfinding system for the London 2012 Olympic Park, but equally inspiring perhaps to all those present was the Award made to an astonishingly competent student for her wayfinding analysis of her home city, Novosibirsk in central Siberia, Russia. And for the second Awards in succession the top prize in the Wayfinding category went to Australia for a project in Sydney.
Designers and students from around the world were able to show the best work undertaken in the past three years across a multiplicity of disciplines in eight entry categories. From Wayfinding to Human Factors and Product Design, from Information Design to Multi-script Signing and Digital, the Awards this year showed how the professions are changing to respond to new technological opportunities and in new technical areas and explored the expanded reach of the professions across the globe.
Ten judges from wide-ranging disciplines assessed over seventy entries from 19 countries and five continents ranging from city wayfinding schemes to single signs, from office environments to shopping centres, from airports to Grade One listed buildings. Big and small, the quality, variety and creativity of the submitted projects was both remarkable and greatly encouraging.
SDS Chairman, Mike Wolff, welcomed over 100 guests at the HQ of its Awards partners Arup, in Central London and extended thanks to six organisations close to the Society, who had provided material or financial help in assuring the success of the Awards. Unique in the field, the competition seeks to give greater public awareness to a profession increasingly demonstrating its importance and relevance in the design of the built environment and its contribution to the understanding and navigation of those environments by users.
The evening began with an evocative presentation by Frida Larios, winner of the Student Prize in 2005, now working for Icograda in Washington, DC. Frida retold and updated the story of her Maya picto-glyphs projects firstly in El Salvador and more recently in Honduras. Attired in a stunning dress of her own design using the Mayan symbology, Larios’s talk provided an emotional and vital contrast to the contemporary content of entries to this year’s competition most of which were reviewed in Wolff’s subsequent presentation to those assembled.
Summarising the entries in the Wayfinding in Public Spaces category, Wolff welcomed Leszek Dobrovolsky, Director in Arup’s Interchange Design Group to present to the winners.
Tim Groom, on behalf of Whybrow Signing Consultants and Johnson Banks, collected a commendation for a project using startling and intriguing multi faceted elements in muted greys for Ravensbourne, the London university college. A splendid example of design for function and memory, which people would certainly associate with any visit there.
A second commendation went, in absentia, to Büro North in Melbourne, Australia for the remarkably diverse solution at the Royal Children’s Hospital in their home city. The way in which different formats, shapes and environmental graphics were used to ensure constant interest was remarkable, all the more so given the rigorous research to understand adult versus child wayfinding abilty. An inspiring piece of work.
A final commendation made to Mark Ross from Dot Dash in Brisbane for the Sunshine Coast Regional Centres in Queensland, Australia recognised the simplicity of its concept which nonetheless would eventually be applied across a colossal ultimate canvas of some 3000 square metres.
Having received his certificate of commendation, Mark Ross was then announced as winner of the top prize in the category for his project for Taronga Zoo in Sydney, described as ‘…tied at the waist to its subject, its use of colour, materials, font, imagery and placement was nigh on perfect and provided a memorable experience for visitors.’
This was the firm’s second success in a row, having won the top prize in the same category in 2009 and Wolff applauded Dot Dash for gaining the record for awards and commendations in the competition! He reminded the guests that the judging was done blind - the authors of the entries were not made known to them until after their decisions.
Moving to the Information Design for Navigation category – a new one for the competition and designed to support the wayfinding category with entries not necessarily involving directional signs or fixed hardware – Roddy Angus from Merson Sign Design presented the top prize to Helen Garley of Maynard.
This was awarded for the Southampton Legible Transport Network, a ‘beautifully designed and integrated system, the like of which would surely be the pride of any city. The entry itself perfectly encapsulated what the Society was looking for in the category with a clearly expressed combination of fixed signing, timetables, maps and information leaflets, designed with great care and attention to detail. Very much a model entry…’
No commendations were given in this category.
Matthew Butters from Pascall + Watson Architects then presented to the rewarded entrants in the Commercial Signing and Identity category.
The single commendation went to Harm Wondaal from Eurorouting for the Fries Museum in Leeuwarden, northern Holland. A celebration of the unique culture of Friesland this was ‘a blend of startlingly original graphics, typography and Frisian motifs subtly applied throughout a generally minimalist application creating a supremely effective marriage within a beautiful modern building’. Wolff also recorded that Leeuwarden has recently been awarded European City of Culture 2018 adding an extra piquancy to the project’s success.
The winning entry went to Mark Sanders at Studio S-C in Seattle, Washington state in the US, again, regrettably, unable to attend the ceremony. This was for the scheme for the US Army Corps of Engineers building described as ‘…stunning – whether in the use of cut lettering in a steel beam marking the building entrance, or the imagery throughout the complex, representing the associations with rivers and waterways with which people in the Pacific Northwest and the US Army Corps themselves are so closely attuned, or the use of materials and different graphic applications, this was a joy’.
Mark Bartlett from Signbox then presented to the successful entrants for the Product Innovation and Technology category.
A commendation for one of a number of entered projects aimed at improving wayfinding for those with sight impairment went to Sylvain Denoncin on behalf of EO Guidage and Tactile Studio to ‘Sixpoints’, a Multi sensory map for the 9th District City Hall in Paris, a ‘beautifully designed and well integrated product which also responded through key fob or Android app to the age old problem that no matter how good such a sign is you need to know it’s there. Many tactile maps serve their purpose well which of course is the essential criterion, but often the aesthetic is compromised and this project seemed to deliver on all fronts.’
Introducing Christine Wilhelmus from NS Dutch Railways and Joost Holthuis from Edenspiekermann who received the Award for the winners in the category, Edenspiekermann and STBY in the Netherlands, Wolff wondered how often anyone had waited on a station platform not knowing where to stand to get the best chance of a seat when a twelve carriage train rolls in? It was too early to know whether the dynamic boarding system represented a universal solution since it was installed presently as a pilot at only one station in Holland but the jury certainly considered it potentially significant. The system on trial involved a 180 metre long LED strip longitudinally placed on the platform. For specific arriving trains, it displays the location of train doors, different ticket classes and actual available seating determined through infra red sensors in the carriages. Rarely, said Wolff, had the Society seen an entry that so precisely matched the purpose they had in mind with the category. He expected we would be hearing a great deal more about this project.
The Digital Wayfinding Solutions Award, the second category new to the competition, recognised the much increased importance of hand held devices since the awards were last held. No commendations were made but Keith Perry from No-Nonsense Design presented the winner’s trophy to Andrej Filetin and Mila Maria Burger of Fiktiv in Zagreb, the first ever Awards entry from Croatia.
Loccie is a small wayfinding user-interface for discovery and exploration in varied environments. Not based on maps, the destination is programmed in and a smart compass uses the gradual warming of a colour to indicate as the target destination is approached. Easily fixed to a bike, hung round the neck or held in the palm of the hand, it’s been designed for cyclists but is equally suitable for pedestrians, for all ages and those with only basic IT skills.
No commendations were made in the new Multiple Language and Multi-Script Signing category but Kevin Watkiss from Lea Valley Colour presented the Award to a clear winner, Seán O’Mara from Air Design in the UK.
The RZD Navigation system for the second largest rail Network in the world allowed for Cyrillic script and English but the grid concept permitted a third language depending on which part of the vast Russian hinterland the signs were serving. Interestingly, whether Mongolian, Georgian or any of twenty others, that third language would also always be a different script. The overall concept was beautifully designed with minimal but effective use of colour and the entry itself was carefully compiled and presented to explain how the system came together.
The final new category, Human Factors for Navigation, represented a radical departure for the Awards, entering the field of cognitive behavioural analysis of people in unfamiliar environments, an increasing pre-requisite to the understanding of perceived wayfinding problems and their design resolution. It was an area of increased focus both by the Society and those commissioning and delivering solutions and its positioning here was designed to test the water in competition. Although several entries were received, no commendations or awards were made, but the Society had confirmed the validity of the category for future competitions.
The category for Student Work was of greatest resonance for the Society, not only because those entering are the expert designers of tomorrow, but because entries can be more freely expressive and thus a potential sounding board for professionals who inevitably work under more constrained conditions. Presentations were again made by Roddy Angus of Merson Sign Design and those commended and the winner won cash prizes of £125 and £1000 respectively.
Joan Zalacain’s ideas for a map for the complex Amsterdam tram lines system, developed as part of the MA course at the University of Reading reversed the traditional approach by identifying which access points were not barrier free, rather than those that are. The graphic solution had been carefully thought through and the result was functional and stylish. Joan’s achievement was recognised in his absence as he is presently working intensively in Jordan.
A beautifully compiled scheme by Emily Whiteside in work also undertaken at Reading, as part of the BA course, integrating all modern wayfinding devices was also rewarded with a commendation. The judges did question whether such a comprehensive system would really be needed for the bus shuttle service serving the famous and much visited Chatsworth House in the Peak District, but they could not fault the expertise deployed and evident quality of the solution.
The ceremony then witnessed the greatest surprise in this, or perhaps any previous competition.
It would have been an unlikely prediction that an entrant, let alone a winner, would come from Novosibirsk in Siberia, but the project submitted by Irina Koryagina, born, educated and still living in that vast and - in her own words, unstructured - city, extremely remote even from the Russian capital, was of astonishing scale, ambition and quality. The jury had been struck by Irina's remarkable honesty about the complexity of her challenge - to derive a wayfinding scheme for her home city - which nonetheless seemed in no way to have fazed her response.
Irina is studying for a specialist degree in Design at Novosibirsk State Academy of Architecture and Fine Arts and the Society was delighted that she had been able to make her first visit to London to attend the ceremony and collect her award. There was no doubt in the jury’s mind that this was an extraordinary latent talent.
The evening concluded with the Grand Prix Award, adjudged by the panel as the best of the best in any category and as Leszek Dobrovolsky, from Arup, once again came up to make the presentation, Wolff commented that there had been no doubt where the prize should go.
Introducing Geoff Holliday to accept the award, he said that maybe the project had something of an unfair advantage. Few if any signing projects are seen by over a billion people, directly experienced by hundreds of thousands, subject to critical examination from every conceivable direction, yet functioning for only some six weeks. Had the project failed to perform under such intense scrutiny, the outcome in the competition might have been different but the signing for the London 2012 Olympic Park gave a stellar performance and those magenta images and quirky designs were still enshrined in people’s memory of the games.
The project had so evidently fired on all cylinders, was completely original in concept, executed under enormous pressure, tested with every conceivable measure of effectiveness by users and - not to overlooked - was fully sustainable. He added that the Olympic Park signing itself was just the centrepiece of what was probably the biggest single temporary wayfinding project ever delivered anywhere and many others had contributed to raising the profile of the city through its signing in Olympics year. But, he said, the accolade went indisputably to LOCOG, the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
The evening concluded with an important coda. Emphasising how difficult it was for the Society and the judges to place in the periphery those very many entries of high quality that didn’t win, Wolff announced the ‘book of the Awards’.
Most of the entries are included with a double A3 colour spread for each and will be shortly available from the Sign Design Society through its website.