Innovation in Architectural Graphics Today
Architecture can be seen as both a canvas and an opportunity for storytelling. The synergistic relationship and importance of graphic design in architecture gives a building and its users the chance to connect with the context of a community by weaving in a unique graphic language. Architectural graphics express meaning and purpose in an immersive and engaging way, the focus is consistently on the relationship of architectural graphics to community, culture, history, and emotion. In this article, we look at what is happening today with environmental graphics, retail experience design, and the importance of placemaking design. People want to see architecture as a reflection of their community and it is often times through this layering of graphics where these feelings manifest. Here we will examine some of the ways communities around the world are using graphics in architecture to express their unique personalities.
Architecture can be seen as both a canvas and an opportunity for storytelling. The synergistic relationship and importance of graphic design in architecture gives a building and its users the chance to connect with the context of a community by weaving in a unique graphic language. Architectural graphics and their interdependence with two- and three-dimensional designs express meaning and purpose in an immersive and engaging way.
RSM Design’s current series of articles, as well as our new book (Graphic Connections in Architecture), focus on the relationship of architecture and graphics, and how our team works at the intersection that weaves both together. Our focus is consistently on the relationship of architectural graphics to community, culture, history, and emotion.
In our last article, we talked about the origins of architectural graphics throughout history, beginning with a survey of graphics interventions from antiquity. In this article, we look at what is happening today with environmental graphics, retail experience design, and the importance of placemaking design.
A Look at Graphics in Architecture Today
Today, many graphic installations into architecture focus on context, culture, and emotion. People want to see architecture as a reflection of their community and it is often times through this layering of graphics where these feelings manifest. Here we will examine some of the ways communities around the world are using graphics in architecture to express their unique personalities.
Fifth + Broadway
In the very heart of Nashville, across from the renowned Ryman Auditorium, is Fifth + Broadway... the epitome of a true mixed-use development and microcosm of the city. Rooted in heritage, influenced by culture, and designed for the people, Fifth + Broadway both preserves what makes Nashville great and looks towards its future. Boldness is a key word to describe this community and the graphic layer seen there. Dynamic neon signage and other original installations speak to the seamless relationship of graphics to architecture.
Fifth + Broadway uses landmarking elements that help people get where they need to go, but they’re strategically layered into the architecture to tell a story and represent the community.
The wayfinding and signage are all in the context of the culture. The graphics originated with music posters, offset printing, and block printing—all the origins were derived from a sense of place, history, and community. These bold signage graphics guide visitors, tell stories, and serve in functionality.
The Moscow Riviera is a two-million square foot mixed-use development that has become a high value destination within central Moscow. Working with the interior and exterior signage graphics, the RSM Design team echoed the bold elegance of the people, nature, and surrounding area.
This development is an ideal example of how architectural graphics as pattern becomes an integral part of the architectural expression. In our first article in this series, we revealed how pattern is not just ornamentation, but is a traditional technique of experiential design. At Moscow Riviera, you’ll notice the same elements being used in the architectural graphics to create a similar synergy, but it’s completely modern and a reflection of this progressive community and location.
When you look at Rosemary Square in West Palm Beach, Florida, you’ll see a diverse area of experiential retail and culinary offerings. You will also notice the robust arts and cultural programs, making this a truly exceptional new district to live, work, and visit in south Florida.
Through the use of architectural façade graphics, the buildings were enhanced to be more engaging and reflective of the vibrant local arts culture. What adds to the soul of this place are the layered patterns and cultural references that provide contextual vibrancy to the guest experience. These economically produced and impactful façade patterns and mural installations transformed the district into a new dynamic environment.
Hofgarten Shopping Center
The city of Solingen, Germany, is known for its knife and cutlery production—it’s even called the City of Blades.
The Hofgarten Center celebrates Solingen’s knife and cutlery production, among other unique elements that reflect the region by inspiring the origins of the graphic language. The graphics also weave comfortably with the modern architecture, utilizing themes of nature, industry, and fashion, to blur the lines between what is architecture and what is graphic enhancement. The relationship between the graphics and architectural patterns makes the façade, for example, feel bold and impactful. Additionally, throughout the building, visitors encounter playful surprises that make walls look like they disappear, skylights with interesting dynamic and ever-changing light features, and bold unexpected patterning in the parking areas.
From the front door to the parking lot, Hofgarten Center uses architectural graphics as wayfinding tools to turn a building into a surprisingly strong representation of the community.
LBX: Long Beach Exchange
Long Beach Exchange is all about the engaging the guest with specialty graphics.
The custom graphics help to create many different expressions of the site’s origins and culture. It complements the architecture in a positive way, making a statement about the community: It’s okay to be original and stand out here. Inspired by the local culture and laid back vibes of the community, the architectural graphics have turned into Insta-worthy moments of surprise and whimsy.
Did you know that Pacific City was the original name of what is now Huntington Beach, CA? That’s what makes it such a perfect name for this city’s shopping and dining epicenter. And the Pacific City narrative is inspired by and overtly reflects the culture of the community—Surf City, USA.
When the project was being built, the property installed temporary barricade graphics to give visitors something engaging to look at while the stores prepared to open. These murals reflected the local surf culture and history, and they quickly became popular with the community. However, when the stores were ready to open, the murals came down. And the community questioned what had happened. Visitors had identified with the artwork so strongly that they asked the developer to bring them back. Shortly after, the murals became permanent installations.
What was intended to be a temporary expression of Huntington Beach’s culture was embraced and permanently adopted by the community. The murals used graphics in architecture to communicate the area’s history and spirit. What seemed like a temporary fix turned out to be something completely beloved.
Looking Forward: The Evolutions of Digital Experience Design
Given how today’s graphics in architecture and wayfinding design trend toward community-focused context, culture, and emotion, what does that tell us about where things are going? Can we accurately predict the future of architectural graphics and wayfinding?
No, but it sure is fun to speculate.
It all comes down to the individual. Many people seem to be attached to their smartphones—it’s how they navigate. Will “traditional” forms of wayfinding be as critical in the future with our reliance on the digital expansion?
Digital components in signage are not new…they have been around for quite some time, so that’s not what we’re talking about. It’s more about how wayfinding and graphics will become greater user focused. We will be exploring how wayfinding will become more intuitive and less reliant on traditional signage methods, instead turning to virtual engagement of the space.
We’re seeing how signage technology is shifting. For example, we're using technology that produces LED glass or digital nodes to transform any surface...into a sign, an image, a pattern, another façade. We're seeing digital graphic façades that generate their own power or other sustainable initiatives, becoming more multi-functional and more inherent with the architectural expression.
Will all of this outdo traditional models of wayfinding? Most likely not. Instead, it will enhance them. As buildings become digitally smarter, they will inherently evolve to do more, but we will always use the graphic layer of buildings to convey culture, community, and context.
Next: The Future of Environmental Graphic Design
Right now, culturally, it feels like we’re in a similar spot when compared to the country after the 1918 flu pandemic, which ushered in the roaring 20s. With the anticipation of a reopening and return to normalcy, people are looking for comfort and confidence, while also craving new experiences. How will this change the impact of environmental graphics and experience design?
It starts by blending smart technology with wayfinding in a way that helps people feel comfortable about getting back and learning how to experience travel, dining out, and being with the community again. We’ll get back to digging into the future of graphics in architecture in the third installment of this series. For more information, check out our companion book, Graphic Connections in Architecture, to this article series.
Exploring the Brand Connection
Cody Clark and Suzanne Redmond Schwartz, Principals at RSM Design, team up for an in-depth conversation on the branding process, finding design inspiration, and leadership in our design studio. They share their personal experiences on what influences their design process, how they find inspiration, and how designers in all stages of their career can continue to grow and expand their knowledge. Then the process of creating a brand vision and logo design is shared through the lense of branding & logo for Miami Baywalk's 5-mile waterfront trail that is space for the community to gather. Cody and Suzanne explain what they call, “the return to great design.” An examination of branding trends from print, to digital, to architectural and what those collections of elements become when you add people.
Join Cody Clark and Suzanne Redmond Schwartz, Principals at RSM Design, as they team up for an in-depth conversation on the branding process, finding design inspiration, and leadership in our design studio.
Part 1: Finding Design Inspiration
Cody and Suzanne share their personal experiences on what influences their design process and how they find inspiration, even when a creative wall hits.
Part 2: Growth and Education for Designers
How would you describe a growth mindset? We believe it’s about an open-minded perspective that isn’t fearful of making mistakes. In this second episode, Cody and Suzanne discuss how designers in all stages of their career can continue to grow and expand their knowledge.
Part 3: Creating a Brand with Meaning
In part 3 of the conversation, Cody and Suzanne take a look at the process of creating a brand vision and logo design. Our team partnered with city stakeholders and community leaders in Miami, Florida to develop a comprehensive brand for Miami Baywalk, a 5-mile waterfront trail that will connect along Biscayne Bay and provide a space for the community to gather.
Part 4: Branding and Design Trends Happening Today
Cody and Suzanne discuss what they call, “the return to great design.” We’re examining branding trends all the way from digital to the environment and design evolutions that are happening today and into the future.
Part 5: Leadership in Our Design Studio
It’s no secret that Covid-19 has rocked almost every part of our world today. Many businesses and organizations have felt the impact of the global pandemic and economic crisis. In this part of our conversation, Cody and Suzanne examine what it means to lead a team during challenging times.
5 Key Strategies for Building a Brand
As a people-focused team of designers, we believe that our mission is to work sensitively with communities, developers and dreamers to craft engaging brands that foster meaning for their audiences. Now looking to reboot our economies, communities, and environments, we must first identify the essential design principles that get brands back on track. Suzanne Redmond Schwartz and Cody Clark, Principals and brand design experts at RSM Design, discuss the 5 key strategies for building a successful brand. Discovering your brand requires an in-depth process of examining several components of your story.
It is no secret that our world has changed over the past 18 months.
Across the globe we have seen our families, communities and places of work be altered by Covid-19, social injustices, and economic challenges. These obstacles are shaping communities' responses to development, design, and ultimately the creation of healthy and meaningful spaces to gather, reconnect and rebuild lives.
As a people-focused team of designers, we believe that our mission is to work sensitively with communities, developers and dreamers to craft engaging brands that foster meaning for their audiences.
Now looking to reboot our economies, communities, and environments, we must first identify the essential design principles that get brands back on track. Suzanne Redmond Schwartz and Cody Clark, Principals and brand design experts at RSM Design, have teamed up for a conversation on how to build a strong brand.
How you discover your brand requires an in-depth process of examining several components of your story. These essential pieces to your brand strategy are: your vision, audience, mission, core values, and personality.
1. Uncovering An Authentic Brand Vision
A vision is no longer an afterthought. Today, it’s an essential first step in explaining your promise to your market. This means that the thoughtful and impactful brands stand out. These brands ultimately drive positive market positioning, loyalty, and economic success.
To begin the brand process, it is critical that you articulate what your organization stands for. We believe that “beginning with the end in mind” your team must ask those big questions to evaluate and ultimately define your DNA.
At our branding firm, we tackle this inside-out process by engaging the community through surveying experiences and leading a guided conversation. Establishing a clear vision is the first step towards a sustainable and engaging brand.
Located in Los Angeles, HHLA is an iconic venue for entertainment. The vision for this project was rooted in crafting a destination designed for foodies, film buffs, families, tourists and adventure seekers. By first creating the groundwork for the brand story, our team was then able to transform HHLA into a branded environment that speaks to the life and culture of Los Angeles.
2. Captivate your Target Audience
Behind every great brand experience is a loyal following. A powerful brand is a mirror that reflects your market. Defining your audience allows you to position a brand in a voice that directly appeals to a group’s desires and needs.
There are several factors to consider about an audience including: age, gender, income, values, lifestyle, and other organizations they connect with. In our team’s experience, individuals often gravitate towards brands that have a unique character and a strong point-of-view. People prefer brands that they can identify with at a deeper level.
Recently, our design team worked alongside the University of California, San Diego to craft a visual brand and logo design for Hospitality Information. The project’s mission is to make life easier for the university community by providing access and tools to students, faculty and guests on campus with day-to-day questions. Essentially, they wanted to turn the concierge service into a branded experience.
By utilizing a people-centered design approach, this allowed the design team to navigate the complexity of such a service. With a specific attention on the community, the identity design for the service emerged by focusing on clarity. Implementing branded touch points encourage guest interaction and speak directly to the audience.
3. Define Your Organization’s Mission
In order to create a brand that has meaning and relevance, it’s vital to understand your mission statement. What is the why behind what you do?
Our team is working on the branding behind the new Petersburg Park. The park stretches beyond simply being a piece of the landscape. It’s desire is to serve as a brand experience that reimagines what the city’s fabric and community will look like for future generations. It’s an inspiring place that honors people of all economic status and cultural backgrounds.
In the early days the site was home to a thriving neighborhood. But in the 1980’s, residents and business owners were evicted, and the entire community was bulldozed for the development of a baseball stadium. Since 2016, The City of St. Petersburg has been working on plans to redevelop the area once again. This time with a different goal in mind: honor the place’s past and restore a destroyed community.
By understanding the organization’s mission, our team is able to create a visual identity that clearly communicates the brand story and in turn develops brand awareness. Utilizing environmental graphic design and signage applications that reflect the identity system, the park will be transformed from an abandoned site to a landmark rich with culture.
4. Define Your Brand Beliefs And Values
Brand values are the foundational principles on which a company stands. Your core values should ultimately reflect your brand mission. This allows your brand to become memorable and consistent, as well, it also builds trust and enables brand loyalty.
In Southern California, Liberty Station is a living brand that has held true to its core values since the beginning of its time. Grounded in military tradition, the San Diego site was first developed as a Naval Training Center. Today, Liberty Station thrives as a revitalized place for the community to gather, dine, shop, and engage with art. It is also a space to honor the destination’s historical story.
Our team worked to create an identity package which reflects the project’s values and inspires the neighborhood. By identifying three main core values (History, Future, and Community) the design team crafted a set of graphic symbols that ultimately blended to create the visual logo mark.
5. Live Out Your Brand’s Personality
“Design transforms bricks, glass and concrete into a place with soul and style.”
Lastly, is how you define your personality. Our tip? Keep it authentic.
This piece of the puzzle creates a framework for guiding your organization closer towards your mission and therefore your audience. It engages your community in a way that sparks an emotional response.
Personality can then be translated to the physical space for a greater brand recognition, through applications such as placemaking, programming, and marketing. These elements allow your guests to feel connected and delighted.
Proud to be bold in flavor and story, Bearded Tang Brewery captures the essence of personality. Their narrative is about three friends with a passion for creating great beer and a desire to share it with their community.
Our team developed an illustrative logo that is both quirky and humorous as it is refined. The overall brand identity design is targeted towards creating an enjoyable connection with guests. Today, the brewery in Orange County has created its own following and guests are equally as excited about the brand as its founders are.
Ultimately, successful brands are built upon insights and strategy that drive the visual language. Developing a clear strategy is essential to positioning your brand and authentically engaging with your audience.
With the disruption of society caused by the pandemic, many of us are looking towards the future with a desire for renewed connection. We’re looking for new ways to relate to our communities, workplaces, the spaces we inhabit and brands we choose to live alongside. Finding our identity in this new world will require diligent work and an internal check on who we are, similar to how brands and organizations will continue to evolve.
It’s exciting to imagine where this sense of discovery will take us. But what’s truly next for brands? It's simple: first, take a look inside.
RSM Design Promotions
Announcing Our Newest Partners
Joining Suzanne Redmond Schwartz, Martin Schwartz, and Harry Mark
As Director of the San Clemente studio, Kyle’s leadership and design vision provides direction for many of the studio’s projects, guiding the team to unexpected and creative solutions. His years of commitment to the studio’s growth and each client’s vision are expressed through the details that enrich every project experience.
Cody directs our Los Angeles studio, fusing his past global experience with RSM's established industry leadership to create an exciting evolution for the studio. His expertise has contributed to an award winning portfolio, industry publications, speaking engagements, and design education over the past 25 years.
Congratulating Our Newly Promoted Team Members
Christy Montgomery, Associate Principal
As Associate Principal at RSM Design, Christy Montgomery brings seasoned experience to the table with a focus on maintaining a consistent vision from concept through final installation. Since 2002, her strength is in defining and addressing the unique challenges of every project.
Jeff Hertzler, Associate Principal
Jeff is a Southern California native who has a passion for all facets of design and composition. As an Associate Principal and design director, he works through all stages of the creative process with a keen interest in quality materials, creative fabrication techniques, and specialty elements that engage users in new and relevant ways.
Eddie Sayers, Senior Associate
Eddie has been a part of the RSM Design team since 2008, specializing in as well as managing the design intent, fabrication, and installation processes. With nearly two decades of experience in the sign industry as both a designer and project manager, Eddie brings a well-rounded understanding of design intent and how to successfully carry each project through completion.
Aaron Ferber, Senior Associate
Graduating from University of California Irvine with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Studio Art, Graphic Design and Digital Media, Aaron brings over 15 years of innovative design and project management experience to RSM Design. Aaron joined the RSM team in 2016, bringing an extensive background in fabrication and understanding of the design process.
On the Origins of Architectural Graphics
Graphics have always been an inherent part of architecture, making the language of patterns, words, signage, and narratives as much of a part of the community as the buildings themselves. Almost every documented culture used words, symbols, or patterns in their environments—and we’re still doing it today, taking old techniques to new levels. Taking a look back, as we create environments for the future, is fascinating and inspiring, which is why we are publishing a series of articles that take an in-depth look at the relationship of graphics and architecture. First, we’re starting with the origins, exploring how typography, patterns, and culture have helped create the architectural identity of buildings for centuries.
Architectural graphics have very deep roots.
But when exactly was it that we started using words, symbols, and patterns to create an environment? The short answer: from the start.
Graphics have always been an inherent part of architecture, making the language of patterns, words, signage, and narratives as much of a part of the community as the buildings themselves. Almost every documented culture used words, symbols, or patterns in their environments—and we’re still doing it today, taking old techniques to new levels.
Taking a look back, as we create environments for the future, is fascinating and inspiring, which is why we are publishing a series of articles that take an in-depth look at the relationship of graphics and architecture. First, we’re starting with the origins, exploring how typography, patterns, and culture have helped create the architectural identity of buildings for centuries.
Graphic Design Connections to Architecture
In the Beginning
For centuries, architecture and graphic design have coexisted in the built environment, although each discipline has its own unique language. If you combine and meld them, they create a whole new vocabulary that can give a building its unique identity.
Let’s go all the way back to hieroglyphics in ancient Egypt. Hieroglyphics used graphic, syllabic, and alphabetic elements to create characters and tell stories. However, these did not just act as storytelling—they also gave structures cultural identities that are still being studied today.
While the centuries, uses, and structures have changed, we’re still seeing the same relationship between graphics and architecture. Classical inscriptions, figurative murals, and ornamental surfaces have all evolved over time to reflect the social and cultural climate of each changing era, becoming part of our visual heritage.
Arch of Titus
Over the decades, these depictions evolved to reflect the social and cultural climate of each changing era, becoming part of our visual heritage. You can take a walk through any city and see graphic elements in architecture almost everywhere. Think of a city hall, or maybe your town’s library. While your city hall may not have the intricate carvings like the ones seen on the Arch of Titus in Rome, it may have similar carved inscriptions letting you know that it is a city hall.
The Arch of Titus itself is an example of graphics evolving to reflect changing times. It was restored in 1821, and the restorations included new carvings to reflect the current religious landscape, which were made in travertine limestone to differentiate between the old and the new.
What’s changed as times changed?
Nothing and everything
Through all of the world’s political, religious, and industrial revolutions, the use of architectural graphics hasn’t just continued—it has flourished and grown into a critical component of how society engages with architecture. Today, we are still using graphics in architecture to convey language and meaning through both two- and three-dimensional design. Architectural graphics woven into the environment solidify narratives, culture, and history, and build a sense of community.
1939 World’s Fair
The combination of graphics and architecture is what most inspired environmental graphic design pioneer Deborah Sussman. Sussman vividly recalls her memory of the 1939 New York World’s Fair installation:
“The famous ‘Trylon and Perisphere’ of the 1939 New York World’s Fair became another lasting icon for me. In this case, it was the form and its whiteness, its newness, its bigness, and its simplicity that lives in memory. It wasn’t architecture; it wasn’t really sculpture, and certainly not graphic design. So what was it? It did not fit into a category neatly. Could it have been ‘environmental graphic design’?”
– Deborah Sussman
Sussman helped to define what structures did not fit into a category, but still made a powerful impression. Now, the famous Trylon and Perisphere lives on in memory as the origin of modern environmental graphic design.
The Power of Typography and 2D Patterns
The graphic design of typography, imagery, symbology, and art can tell cultural and visual stories, and oftentimes echo an architectural and cultural message.
The human desire to “dedicate” places is clearly the reason graphics were integrated into the built environment. Inscriptions, figurative murals, and ornamental surfaces have long been a part of architecture. These elements and concepts transformed over time, reflecting the social, political, and cultural climate of each period and becoming part of our rich visual and cultural heritage.
Typography as a Tool
The typography we see today, along with layered two-dimensional patterns, have been used to define a structure’s identity for centuries.
Typography is a particularly powerful tool. Compare The New York Times building in New York, the Arch of Titus in Rome, and Mussolini’s Palazzo Braschi in Rome. While the three structures bear little resemblance to each other culturally, politically, or geographically, they all use typography to tell their identity story.
The Arch of Titus is a religious honorific arch, whereas Palazzo Braschi was once the headquarters for Italy’s fascist party. Then you have The New York Times building, which tells you not only that it’s a prominent publication, but also that it is part of the very fabric of New York City.
Coming of Age
Las Vegas in the 1940s is a great example of how wayfinding and signage are design elements that can turn buildings into landmarks. Sure, the bright lights and typography gave you information and told you where to go—but they also helped to give Las Vegas its cultural identity.
Santa Monica Place
Architects of the 1980s embraced using typography to solidify architecture brand identity. Take Frank Gehry’s Santa Monica Place in Los Angeles, for example. He used gigantic typography layered with chainlink to turn something that could have been ordinary into an iconic image that has been woven into the pop culture history of Los Angeles.
Seattle Art Museum
Go a little farther up north to Washington, and you can see another excellent example of typography in architecture. The Seattle Art Museum, designed by Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, uses typography in a way that seems so simple, but has such an impact. That “simple” typography has made the museum truly stand out in a city full of iconic buildings.
Universal CityWalk Hollywood
If you jump to the 1990s, Jon Jerde’s design for Universal CityWalk in Los Angeles also shows how signage isn’t just a simple addition to the architecture, or something that gets in the way of it—it is a crucial part of the design.
The engaging aspect about examples of architectural graphics is that they’re everywhere, in almost every city or town. Even now, we’re seeing some of the most exciting examples of architectural graphics yet—which is what we’ll talk about in our next blog post.
Graphic Design Continues to Transform Architecture
Many aspects of the built environment—including urban streetscapes, office buildings, museums, airports, public parks, mixed-use developments, and entertainment centers—have been transformed by the integration of graphic design and architecture.
Although the discipline of architectural graphics was only recognized relatively recently, it has long been known not only for its functional improvements, but also for its integral relationship to changes in architecture, cultural movements, and art. This combination of the disciplines can shape our overall perception and memory of place and ultimately enrich our experiences with the built environment.
The conversations surrounding graphics in architecture are important. Graphic typography and texture can enhance architectural design in so many ways, and even turn a building into an iconic destination.
RSM Design's new book, Graphic Connections in Architecture, takes a deeper look at the synergistic relationship between engaging graphics and today's architecture, starting with the origins and going all the way to the future.
And remember—don’t miss the next blog post in this series. Next time, we will be discussing architectural graphics in contemporary environments, and you know we’ll have a lot to say.
Fort Worth Stockyards Mule Alley has been recognized in the annual PaperCity Design Awards
RSM Design is excited to share that the newly renovated Fort Worth Stockyards Mule Alley has been recognized in the annual PaperCity Design Awards for its sensitive handling of historical restoration and preservation. RSM Design was honored to collaborate with the team in crafting the architectural graphics and signage, inspired by the historic character of the area yet weaving in modern sensibilities of contemporary placemaking.
Congratulations to the team led by Fort Worth Heritage Development Co. (Majestic Realty Co./Hickman Companies), Bennett Benner Partners, Lifescapes International, and many others. It's been a fun ride... yee haw!