March 11, 2019

What is Environmental Graphic Design? Part 2: Emotional Connections

A series of images showing people enjoying moments at various RSM project sites.

Part 1 of this discussion described the basics of environmental graphic design as a multidisciplinary field of study aimed at providing communication within the built environment – ideas, images, and messages layered and integrated into an architectural experience. Whether you call it environmental graphic design, experiential graphic design, or architectural graphic design the objective is similar…helping people make connections with the places they visit and inhabit. By doing so this increases their ability to identify with these places, making these places their own, thereby uniquely connecting on a visceral and emotive level. The principle of “Connecting People to Place” provides some insights to the intention behind environmental graphic design and the countless ways in which EGD can facilitate these connections. However, at the core of every one of these ways to connect is a single driver – human need.

As designers we explore three types of criteria when developing EGD programs: certainty, variety, and delight. All three are designed to satisfy human need on one or more levels. When considered alongside Maslow’s pyramid of human need, the concepts of certainty, variety and delight help provide a lens through which to evaluate the potential success of proposed solutions. The two base layers of the pyramid cite physiological and safety needs as the most critical of human needs. EGD elements such as wayfinding systems act as guides to built environments and experiences. By identifying entries, exits, escape routes, and helpful directional information, these guides satisfy those first two layers of the pyramid. With the assurance of safety, visitors can relax, enjoy the space, and then be receptive to other elements designed to address the upper portions of the pyramid which involve love, belonging, esteem, and self-actualization. In total, these elements add up to a more positive emotional connection with the place because they allow more access to the experience – they enhance it by helping one get to it, understand it, and feel a level of ownership in it.

The primary guiding principle of our design practice is that people are at the center of everything we do. Whether you think of people in terms of individuals, groups, or communities, they are inherently the reason behind most every built environment. The audiences are nuanced in terms of demographics or psychographics but most importantly all have human needs. Regardless of who these people are or where they come from, the goal is to help a user “feel” a place – to translate brick and mortar into narratives that help people make meaningful and personal connections to a place. We approach the psychology of connecting people to place through four attributes:

Mental Connection (IQ): The ability to think, reason, problem-solve, and comprehend

Physical Connection (PQ): Connection to our bodies and health as well as our ability to maintain and develop a balanced state

Emotional Connection (EQ): The ability to communicate, interact and socialize with others and be self-aware

Spiritual Connection (SQ): Connection to ideas bigger than ourselves and the ability to think creatively beyond what we see and experience

These four principles as applied to the built environment cover all of the human needs. They serve as a litmus test for the capability of an environmental graphic design program to provide users the tools necessary to fulfill all four connections. Ultimately, the impact of EGD is directly tied to its ability to tap into these emotional connections to influence the overall experience and memory of a place.

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