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Designing in the Right Scale

A further look at Wayne Hunt’s design processes

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In February’s column, we focused on several design processes Wayne Hunt outlines in his book, Environmental Graphics: Projects and Process. Specifically, we depicted such processes as designing in human scale, human factors in perceiving the environment, and scale and design in children’s environments.

This month’s focus on architectural proportions, outdoor and urban scale, and vehicular environments will complete our coverage of Hunt’s design processes.

We’ve seen the importance of architectural scale in designing signage and graphics, which are usually part of buildings, places or spaces. Signage also alters the perception of scale in a building. A sign mounted on a building is designed for a person; it’s a natural, scale-transition element.

In addition, Hunt discusses designing in outdoor and urban scale. Basically, when designing for an outdoor environment, the rules of scale change. Things that look huge indoors suddenly appear to shrink once outside. By definition, scale is relative. Thus, for scale reference outside, we depend on such natural elements as trees, and such manmade components as buildings and streets. Furthermore, because people use signage and graphics, scaling the designs to an outdoor, or urban, setting is paramount.

Hunt emphasizes the following key components pertaining to outdoor and urban scale:

• People need to be around things; thus, they’re uncomfortable in environments without scale references.

• Landscape and other elements scale down” the outdoors.

• Outdoor spaces require larger objects than architectural spaces.

• Large objects have the most value when viewed from a distance.

• Small-scale detail is required for viewing large objects up close.

• Overly wide streets, like those in the United States, pose challenges to human scale.

• Narrow streets, like those in Europe, provide a more human-scale experience.

Finally, Hunt discusses vehicular environments. Being a driver also changes scale relationships. In this case, detail and human scale are no longer relevant, while large, simple forms and clear information are paramount. Viewing the world, while in motion, challenges our ability to differentiate letters and words, as well as drastically reduces the time needed to sort content and comprehend meaning.

Although road signs’ relative scale to the environment is important, their real-scale success is based on vehicle speed and contrast with other signs.

The following design insights pertain to vehicular environments:

• Vehicular environments require very large objects.

• Truck environments require even larger objects.

• Drivers tend to respond to, and only read, information in the upper half of their cone of vision.

• The longer the viewing distance, the larger the object must be within a driver’s cone of vision.

• Viewing through a windshield further limits understanding of an environment.

• Unique shapes promote driver recognition.

• On high-speed roadways, signs should be widely spaced.

In addition to designing in the proper scale, in the “Design Process” section of his book, Hunt discusses how to:

• Add real, tangible depth to 2-D letterforms;

• Shape individual components and their combination into interesting, stable and appropriate signage elements;

• Manipulate and manage balance to create symmetrical designs or asymmetrical compositions that look balanced; and

• Use arrow forms to decorate directional/wayfinding components.

In addition to design processes, Hunt’s book provides information about new directions in environmental graphics, and materials and techniques. Furthermore, it features a glossary, and showcases wayfinding, placemaking and interpretive projects, as well as expert essays pertaining to educational, medical and retail environments; design details; and exhibit design and programming.

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