Visual Communication Design Sensitivity in Architecture

User experience and visual communication design are among the dimensions that project designers must consider at the onset of each project that communicate with people. In architectural projects if these issues are not taken seriously and disregarded, we face with projects that incur losses and failed projects because of failure to establish an appropriate communication with its target audience; for instance people unable to locate their cars in an auto park, missing their buses or trains, visitors entering wrong patients’ rooms etc.

Not just in architecture but broadly speaking, a project’s success is related with its degree of communication with people. I think in project planning phase and segmentation it is best to consult the associated expert to avoid any losses by disappointed project target groups.

Contemporary man is intolerable to lose time in his/her daily routine. He/she is in communication with the digital world whenever it is possible. In most architectural projects different ways are attempted to appeal to man’s digital universe and to involve in life’s digital speed. Interactive museums, educational science centers, smart sport fields and intelligent buildings are among those examples. As a result of such an involvement, penetration, diffusion or let’s just say influence of technology in daily life, most architectural firms employ visual communication designers and cooperate with agencies during project designing process.

An architectural office/firm, first of all, is a brand. Because of this, every firm must provide appropriate branding and identity design solutions compatible with their target audiences. Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA), which cooperated with London based Greenspace agency for identity solution and rebranding for almost a year is a good example. To create a brand voice for ZHA branding, Greenspace agency also worked with typographer/designer Miles Newlyn to create a custom font. In this example, we see that the importance attached to the identity has been formed like chain rings; the architectural firm gives the project letter to the agency and makes all the plannings and shares its own project letter with a type designer to complete the project. Such an important identity solution/branding task; it is fair to say that the firm has been successful in making itself special to its target audiences and differentiating itself from other firms. Moreover, it will directly influence the success of the firm’s future projects. In this regard a final example is again Zaha Hadid’s cooperation with New York’s renowned agency Mother in “520w28” project and producing an identity design well reflecting the core of the project. ZHA’s success is not only because of its skills. The firm’s success is directly related with its attention on its own appearance/brand voice, visual design of its projects and their perception in the market and the visual communication designers it cooperates with, as well.

The success of most of the design projects, including architectural ones, is directly related with sufficient exchange of ideas between the project owner and project coordinators, a detailed depiction of the project letter, informing project interlocutors on integrated “visual design” by giving adequate examples in preliminary meetings and visualization of the real-like solution on paper yet during the design process. For instance, an architectural office wins a construction tender and hence receives a project letter, it must make a model of the building and must design (or make it designed) its identity as well. Because the relation of the building to its environment/surroundings and to people, architectural existence is inclusive of visual communication design. Logos that will be used on different parts of the building — logo is only a small but important constituent of an whole identity and brand voice, graphical elements, signs, colour codes, typography, pictograms, written and printed designs, color scale, graphical solutions directed to (aimed at) brand strategy, visual space solutions are attributes that enrich user experience. A building without an appropriate visual design is like a blank book. It cannot reach to its readers and hence becomes inconceivable.

Museums, galleries, housing, building, office space projects, parking lots, education and training place are the most important centers where the direct target audience is people. For the Highpark building in Mexico which was designed by renowned architect Michel Rojkind, Face agency which is renowned for its minimalist identity solutions designed an appropriate visual identity and hence helped to create a brand voice that the target audience can identify with the building. Larry Gagosian, the owner of the Gagosian Gallery, in order to differentiate his gallery from the rest asked Bruce Mau Design to design an identity. Bruce Mau Design developed a custom font called “Gogo” and this contributed to the originality of the identity which was designed with various graphical textures and interfaces. For the Hepworth Wakefield Museum, A Practice for Everyday Life agency created a custom typeface named “Hepworth” and made engravings on to the outer facades using this typeface which played an important role in creating a historical identity and appearance for the building. As Massimo Vignelli said “maybe nowadays only a small number of typefaces has the capacity to represent brands.” In my opinion for this very reason new typefaces must be designed in accordance with the brand in order to turn the brand into a stronger communicator. At least if the designer’s intent is originality.

The brand strategy and identity developed by worldwide known agency Pentagram for Ten Trinity Square fits well to the historical structure of the building and it’s a branding work which incorporates today’s modernism as well. One of UK’s famous visual design agency Spin defined the identity developed for The Haunch Museum as “not just a mere museum identity design but as a cultural design at the same time”. This shows not only the work itself but also the place where the work has been carried out is also well analyzed by the project coordinators and designers. For instance, in Barcelona most of the signboards are in Spanish, Catalan and English. At this point, we see that as an important factor design sensitiveness can be a communicative language element. As identity design is related with the project itself, so the project with its impact area. Hence, a building or an architectural structure must develop a language, a brand voice with its impact area in addition to with its brand voice, strategy and language.

One of the best examples for brand voice is that of Salt’s identity, one of the outstanding art galleries of Turkey. Project Projects agency, developed a custom font called “Queen” and created a brand voice on the precondition that the letters S, A, L and T will be designed by a different designer or typographer in every four months. This is a good example of a variable but catchy brand communication and visual communication design through a dynamic branding. Another example of dynamic identity design is that of Ravensbourne College developed by UK’s NB Studio. By using the logo as a dynamic identity element, NB Studio embedded the College’s brand voice into the logo and placed it within a dynamic brand language framework and then by spreading this identity on to the building facades they strengthened the brand’s communication language with architectural structure.

Communication language in parking spaces is usually a problem. One of the successful parking space visual communication design made by Latitude agency from Australia for QV Melbourne. Various optical implementations, colorful and large directions manually and hand painted with ITC Avant Garde Gothic fonts are both entertaining and catchy in terms of user experience. Therefore, locating one’s car by the help of a mobile phone application is not necessary and an architectural language, a design language emerges automatically. Hence, while the mayors of Milan, Berlin, Stockholm, Eindhoven and London have developed their cities’ own custom typefaces; in the case of Porto the city administrators collaborated with White Studio Agency to develop a successful identity for the city. Tate Museum was designed by North Design Studio to leave a permanent imprint in people’s minds. Accordingly, Plasencia Architecture Office of Barcelona designed Vall d’Hebron University Hospital in cooperation with Toormix Design Agency. Designers’ aim “to beautify a place like a hospital where kids and patients are under difficult conditions” has brought with it an original architectural language.

© http://www.nbstudio.co.uk/work/ravensbourne

In simplest words, design language is an issue of sensitiveness. On the other hand, visual communication design — whether an architectural structure, a business firm or a city’s/country’s own identity — requires careful attention and thought for the sake of reaching people with a particular feeling. Here the goal is eventually transmitting that feeling to its respondents in an appropriate and accurate way. That’s why architects must collaborate with visual communication designers to increase their success rates. As designers we are just intermediators that must recognize (be aware of) this objective. Although most of the time we identify ourselves with the projects that we undertake, we should remember that each of us has his/her own individual handprints in those projects. Originality can assume a design language only in this way.

Note: This article was first published in XXI — Architecture, Design, Venue Magazine in January 2017.