At the intersection of graphic design, architecture and industrial, interior and landscape design lives environmental graphic design. Its boundaries are blurred, its definition elusive. According to Leslie Gallery-Dilworth, executive director of the Society for Environmental Graphic Design (SEGD), this is one of its strengths. “Defining the field would limit it,” she explains.
“Environmental graphic design involves communication, telling stories, defining a message, navigation, information, branding and identity,” says Gallery-Dilworth. “Achieving clear communication requires considerable analysis and research. It is far more than a pretty picture. For those trained in graphic design, it requires additional skills in understanding structures, construction and three dimensions, as well as analytical thinking. For those trained in architecture, additional education in typography, color and print media is needed.” Collaboration is key; thinking outside your discipline is essential.
To help designers navigate through this complex field, the SEGD (www.segd.org) made its debut 34 years ago. Its first conference, held in 1980, had 150 attendees, SEGD co-founder and its third chairman Richard Burns recalls, “At that first meeting, we were launching a new profession.” Today with 1,500 members in 25 countries, the SEGD has evolved from a gathering of designers in sign programs to what SEGD president Steven Stamper says is an educational foundation that is the international source for research, content and education for those practicing communication design in the built environment.
While museum exhibitions continue to serve up ground-breaking experiences, Gallery-Dilworth cites dynamic environments as the space for technology and new media to shine. “Dynamic environments further blur the edge between architecture, graphics, signs, public art and advertising. The skin of buildings may be a dynamic message board—not applied but integral to the fabric of the building or enclosure. It might change throughout the day or season. It is not a static material with static information,” she says.
“Possibilities have opened up with cell phones, maps on demand and edited information on demand, but there is still the basic need to understand and determine which information to include, how to edit the available information, how to find the available information, and in what format,” she continues. “With so much information and technology available, it is even more important to be able to easily find your way.”
From the glamorous to the mundane, the entire spectrum of environmental graphics holds tremendous responsibility. It is multilayered communication that shapes our sense of place and understanding of information.
“Every time you get confused finding your way in a medical center, in a city, on the highway, in the airport, on public transportation or on a campus, look to the client, the building manager or transit officials who do not understand the importance of user-friendly information and the necessity of maintaining a system of information,” reminds Gallery-Dilworth.
For this feature, we invited designers to submit environmental graphic design projects; the amount of work that came our way—from across the globe—astounded us. In fact, narrowing the selection to eleven projects was a challenging task. The following examples—from exhibition to retail, and the spaces in between—represent just a small portion of this innovative field, where multiple design disciplines converge. ca