Several people sit on a grassy field enjoying a sunny day
January 8, 2021

Making Space: Environmental Graphic Design Outdoors

Environmental graphics, wayfinding signage, and public art programs give outdoor spaces a voice and make guests feel comfortable, invited, and welcomed. They let guests know that they've arrived at the right place, leading them to different destinations and activities. They tell people where trailheads are located and they can also add a sense of whimsy or delight. Differing forms of architectural graphics define a space and create exciting visual opportunities along the way.

The work at RSM Design thoughtfully integrates placemaking and environmental graphic design into spaces giving the visitor a sense of place and providing a moment of respite and delight.

Everyone needs parks and outdoor spaces now more than ever.

Environmental graphics, wayfinding signage, and public art programs give outdoor spaces a voice and make guests feel comfortable, invited, and welcomed. They let guests know that they've arrived at the right place, leading them to different destinations and activities. They tell people where trailheads are located and they can also add a sense of whimsy or delight. Differing forms of architectural graphics define a space and create exciting visual opportunities along the way. 

When you have an unexpected piece of art in an open space or poetry written in the pavement, or it could just be a simple trailhead with a directory map, it provides you with all the information you need at the right time and place. 

We’re working on new residential communities such as Rancho Mission Viejo and Terramor, for example, where residents want open space with natural walking surfaces, along with the sense of security knowing that they won’t get lost. It's really a sense of certainty.

If the paths are clear and the signage is located at the intersections of those paths, you feel more comfortable. At our design studio, we also work to place specific signs such as to look for native birds or to watch out for rattlesnakes that can provide warnings, but also ensure that people are looking for things that are beautiful.

View RSM Design's parks and outdoor spaces work
Terramor, Corona, California

Outdoor Graphics Welcome Visitors

Great Park Neighborhoods (a housing development in Irvine, California by FivePoint) is called a “Great Park” which is visionary in thinking. The premise is that there is one great park, and then each individual park, such as Cadence Park or Pavilion Park, where the neighborhoods are built around, are also great.

Each time they build a new neighborhood they put a park in the middle. They build the model homes right on the edge so the park becomes the hub and spokes. They have cooking and painting classes, kite making, pumpkin carving and all kinds of events in these community parks.

RSM Design has completed the signage and wayfinding for all of these events as well as the permanent signage and several placemaking elements that define what different areas of the space are to be used for. It definitely connects the community in a classic, almost town square kind of way.

Defining the Outdoor Experience

Each park has a different monument and wayfinding signage system along with a unique play structure that pays careful attention to the curated park design. Whether it's the community pool area and the graphics and signage related to pools, or perhaps a garden theme park or an art walk, the environmental graphics and park signage design speak to different elements that serve the community’s particular needs.

These opportunities for experiential graphic design and public art programs relate to the essence of each parks' individual personality and bring out that character in a form that people can see and read. It gives the place a spirit that it might not have otherwise.
Cadence Park at Great Park Neighborhoods, Irvine, California

Connecting to a Living Brand

Great Park Neighborhoods is the Anti-Brand, meaning they don't really say “Great Park Neighborhoods” anywhere. They just do great parks and neighborhoods. The living brand has a breath of its own. For each of the parks, it’s a unique master signage system all across the area that is creating the identity.

What people are engaging with in those spaces is due to the different narratives that belong to each park. The signage and wayfinding design provide aesthetic cues. Each park is identified uniquely by creating fun ways to make them different from the other parks. The signage and identifiers play a unique part in that.

In contrast, there is a different approach for the Summit at Bechtel Reserve for the Boy Scouts of America. It's definitely a branded experience. Everything feels like a kit of parts that work together. Whether it's a stop sign waiting for the shuttle or a map, each piece has a related look and feel. Everything is a branded destination or experience, whether it's the skateboard park or the biking or archery area.

Summit Bechtel Reserve, Mt. Hope, WV

Engaging Elements of the Human Experience: Connect, Activate, Think, Inspire

You're on a corner in Chicago and your friend says to meet you at that big red sculpture. You're waiting, looking up at this big red sculpture and someone comes up to you. One person says, “Do you know the artist?”, and the other person says, “Yes, it's Calder.”

What’s great about these places and moments is they can be appreciated by both one or many, inviting strangers to have a conversation and connect. The art invites a place for conversations to spark, because two people that don't know each other are both looking up at this red sculpture.

It also activates the space, like a poem in the pavement. It makes you think about what the poem says. Or maybe it's an educational plaque about trees, or it might be the history of the place. You might have an educational moment or an inspirational moment to connect to one another or to connect to nature.

Monet Avenue, Rancho Cucamonga, California

An example for Inspire is when you hike to the top of a mountain or hilltop. At the top, there's a graphic that shows all of the mountains nearby and you learn the elevation of not only the one you're standing on, but the ones that you can see in the distance. You become inspired to hike a different mountain and then maybe that inspires you to climb Mount Whitney or the tallest peak in your area. You start small, and maybe you're inspired to keep going.

Activate is about the sense of discovery people get when exploring a new place. It's also about being intrigued by a place and wanting to see more of it.

When people find things that are educational or inspirational in the space, they are motivated to think more deeply or experience the place differently. Whether it's to learn more about their community, to explore or they’re activated to go somewhere new, which is pretty powerful to give to a community.

Environmental Graphics in the context of 2021…

If you can't go to a restaurant, you can't go to a cinema, you can't go to a sporting event, you can still go outside. Homes are being sold before they're built because the homes are connected to so much… acres and acres of trails and open space. And everyone wants trails and open space and land to get outside now. It allows for ease in social distancing with more space between one family group to another.

People are stressed out and frenzied, and we need to do things that not only simply inspire joy, but just allow people to breathe and exhale and feel OK wherever they are. I think this whole idea of breathing in the outdoors is important and healthy. But you're asked to wear a mask and it feels counter to what you're wanting to do. So we need to provide visual ways to let people just exhale. I don't know how we're going to do that, but we'll figure it out. Or maybe that's just me holding my breath.

Suzanne Redmond Schwartz is a founding partner and principal at RSM Design. Her world class experience has transformed projects from Saudi Arabia to Southern California, earning accolades and positioning RSM Design as a global leader in architectural graphic design. Suzanne manages and inspires the RSM Design team with her infectious enthusiasm for connecting people to place. 

Read more about Suzanne and connect with her here

Images used in article by Tsutsumida Pictures, Jonnu Singleton, Allison Richter and Boy Scouts of America

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Signs installed at the Historic Stockyards in Fort Worth, Texas
Project Updates
December 24, 2020

Mule Alley and Hotel Drover at the Historic Fort Worth Stockyards

After over two years of planning and design, the new signs are getting installed! Layered into the Historic Fort Worth Stockyards, new signage is taking shape along the renovated Mule Alley and soon to open Hotel Drover. Extensive research went into the historic context inspiring these newly iconic signs. The signs are being crafted by neon artisans and the referential materials of cold-rolled steel and Corten complement both the historic brick of the repurposed mule barns and the newly constructed boutique hotel.

Hotel Drover neon signage at The Fort Worth Stockyards
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Aerial view of The Farm mixed use development in Allen, Texas
Project Updates
December 18, 2020

The Farm in Allen

Collaborating with Omniplan Architects and landscape architects TBG, RSM Design has joined the team to transform the 135 acre Johnson family farm into a unique world-class mixed-use destination that juxtaposes the agrarian small-town roots of the site with a modern urban center. RSM Design will be layering signage and placemaking features into the outdoor spaces and streetscape to enhance the guest experience and carry the brand narrative through to the details.

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Exterior view of modern architecture of The El Paso Children's Museum in Texas.
Project Updates
December 8, 2020

El Paso Children's Museum

RSM Design is excited to be collaborating with Snøhetta, El Paso architects Exigo, and exhibit designers Gyroscope to design building signage for the city’s first children’s museum. Located in the heart of El Paso’s Downtown Arts district, this new 70,000 sf museum will have strong links to the nearby children’s museum in Juarez, Mexico. The bi-lingual signage designs are sensitively woven into the interiors to relate to the strong building geometries, playful qualities, and interactive exhibits.

RSM Design is excited to be collaborating with Snøhetta, El Paso architects Exigo, and exhibit designers Gyroscope to design building signage for the city’s first children’s museum.

Located in the heart of El Paso’s Downtown Arts district, this new 70,000 sf museum will have strong links to the nearby children’s museum in Juarez, Mexico. The bi-lingual signage designs are sensitively woven into the interiors to relate to the strong building geometries, playful qualities, and interactive exhibits.

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Aerial Shot of Great Parks and Runway with Orange Hot Air Balloon.
October 22, 2020

Runways to Parkways

Across the country, aging military bases continue to be decommissioned, offering a unique opportunity to reimagine these large-scale, flat, open spaces as thriving, alive, culture-creating hubs in their community. In a time when everything is shifting and we’re being restricted in so many ways, people are craving spaces to (safely) connect, to run free in nature, and find a new way fulfilled, whole and well. It’s the opposite of Joni Mitchell, instead of paving paradise to put up a parking lot, we’re finding out what happens when we un-pave the parking lots and put up paradise.

Project: Airport Park, Hawaii & Playa Vista Parks,Playa Vista, California. Image Credit: David Alf

As barracks, runways and warehouses re-emerge as stores, homes and parks we have the chance to re-design communities on a grand scale, turning gray installations into inviting neighborhoods, surrounded by nature, with new, alive environments to live and work.

When we took on the challenge of developing air bases, our main problem was we had nothing and had to create everything. We quickly realized the consistency of continuously blank slates that were almost always flat, with a few trees, and some purposefully planned, very bland buildings. Other than that, we could count on a lot of asphalt, concrete and efficient infrastructure. With the goal of bringing life to these environments by creating landscapes that want to be lived in and interacted with, our biggest question was how do we bring these massive properties down to a human scale. By establishing welcoming, inviting environments, we create spaces that people feel good about being in – we make what was once impersonal extremely personal, with an identity, a sense of fun and an engagement that nods to the past while looking toward the future.  

Project: Alameda Point, Alameda, California
Alameda Point

Originally the Alameda Naval Air Station, Alameda Point sits on 878-acres of waterfront land with dramatic views of the San Francisco Bay. The initial development includes 800 housing units and 60,000 square feet of commercial space in the former air station’s World War II-era buildings. The focus is on a new main street, parks, and low-rise residential with maker spaces and a collection of wineries and breweries, dubbed “Spirits Alley.”

With so many elements present, we developed the branding and identity as a foundation and uniting element for the project. At first, water was the obvious theme – the site sits on a stretch of coastline with views of the city – but further research uncovered a rich history that included a thriving Victorian-era community and a stint as a Pan-Am terminal in the ‘30s.

Ultimately, it’s the runways and connection to aviation that invoke a pride in America and link to an exciting past. However, identity can’t stay stuck in nostalgia and this project has to connect with different generations, attracting families and diverse groups alike.

A palette was developed to capture the richness, nostalgia and warmth of the environment, while still connecting it to current demographics. The branding and logo brought together core elements of the project, highlighting each unique district, making the individual part of the whole.

Additionally, a full activation program was developed around concepts that could inspire, educate, and entertain a landscape full of active lifestyle enthusiasts, families, urban professionals, artists, and students. With the target audience identified, we decided on temporary installations like food trucks, a container park, and key spaces to create and capture shareable moments, in addition to art and community events, all designed to bring Alameda Point to life with a very special sense of space.

Project: Great Parks Neighborhoods, Irvine, California. Image Credit: City of Irvine
Orange County Great Park

When the Marine Corps Air Station at El Toro was closed in 1999, it sparked years of debate and ballot initiatives to determine what to do with the land. The eventual result was the Orange County Great Park, a groundbreaking plan to turn the unused air base into an arts and sports recreational center. At 1,300 acres, the park itself would be bigger than New York’s Central Park or San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, including its 688 acres of parkland and 175-acre sports facility.

The challenge here was how to bring a sense of scale and identity to a completely new space. With the project evolving and so many different entities and individuals closely invested in its progress, the design process had to be open, inclusive, and highly flexible. As new neighborhoods come online, new designs are constantly needed today.

The City of Irvine, a seminal Southern California master-planned community, already had a distinct look, feel and culture, but the Great Park’s development team wanted to instead create a new, low-key identity separate from Irvine. The team specifically wanted to avoid the look and feel of California’s gated communities, with big entry monuments, a closed-off feel and cookie-cutter vibe.

Each area of the park is different and was developed with a different theme, tying in a universal emphasis on walking and biking. All the wayfinding elements – pedestrian and bike signage, trails, and educational moments – communicate and reinforce the overall identity while celebrating and defining each unique area. On every level, the park must present a comfortable and secure environment in order to draw families and active young adults from the surrounding area.

At the same time, there also has to be an element of whimsy and adventure. A special emphasis was placed on random and unexpected moments that would make people smile, allowing for a level of variety and delight that would give the new park personality and distinction. Hand-painted signs and benches are used to create a sense of neighborhood, an organic space that reflects the people who live there.

Playing on that, we discovered new opportunities throughout the site to create new environments. Lights were strung from mature trees and a large viewing deck was built into a grove of jacarandas. Big shade structures were designed to define spaces, allowing for mixed-use. Every element provides more occasions for people to connect while continuously encouraging them to explore.  

Project: Liberty Station, San Diego, California
Liberty Station

In San Diego, more than 1,75 million young men and women passed through the Naval Training Center on their way to service in the Navy. The base is emotionally connected through generations, a heritage that plays a large role in today’s Liberty Station, a 361-acre mixed-use development with several distinct retail, commercial, artisan, and residential districts.

On the National Register of Historic Places, the Spanish Colonial Revival buildings help give the project its distinctive style. The goal of the branding, wayfinding, and identity process was to represent this history and the site’s place in it, while still connecting to authenticity of local tenants and artisans in order to create a holistic, modern experience.

A cohesive plan was developed to create special places throughout the site, to develop easy navigation for pedestrians, bikes and cars, and to bring life and personality to the growing community. As a result, every element in the identity is clean and contemporary. The logo and branding are focused on the timeless anchor, distinctly invoking nautical roots in a contemporary way. Entranceways define the spaces and signage invites exploration while connecting the different districts.

A human scale was brought to the different blocks, including areas devoted to artisans and small businesses. Throughout the project, spaces were created to encourage people to gather and linger, while monuments and icons highlight the project’s character and uniqueness, providing opportunities for shareable moments. Art, banners and graphics all work together to cohesively remind people they are in a historically  and culturally special place.

Project: Playa Vista Parks, Playa Vista, California

In addition to these Runways to Parkways projects, we have worked on Airport Park on the big island of Hawaii, and Playa Vista, home to Howard Hughes’ private runway for his aerospace empire. Once housing the Spruce Goose, it’s now home to tech giants like Facebook, Microsoft, Google, and Yahoo. Often called Silicon Beach, it has parks, residential zones, retail, and a hub of restaurants. Currently, we are working on a mixed-use project known as Hensley Fields, which is well known as the Dallas Naval Air Station. 

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Kate Gilman, newly appointed AIGA OC board member, poses for a picture.
RSM Culture
September 30, 2020

Kate Gilman Named Newest Member of the AIGA OC Board 2020!

RSM Design is proud to have on our team the newest member of the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) Orange County Board of Directors. Kate has been an active member of AIGA Orange County, attending events and volunteering for the past two years. Last summer she attended the AIGA board member conference as an honorary member and transitioned to the new position this year. Kate brings her infectious enthusiasm to RSM Design and to AIGA OC. We congratulate Kate on all of her accomplishments.

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