How Hard Is It To Navigate A Rectangle? Harder Than You Think

Neil Ward
Assistant Professor of Graphic Design
Drake University

Wayfinding and signage are important pieces of a buildings structure and interior space, especially on college/university campuses. They provide a visual blueprint that informs students, administrators, faculty, and public visitors where they are and attempts to direct them to classrooms, galleries, labs, performance spaces, and offices. When the signage is missing, incomplete, or inconsistent, all who enter the space are left confused and quite possibly frustrated as they wander around. A missing/poor wayfinding system can intensify these feelings when an individual is mobility challenged and unable to use the stairs. Especially when the building in question is rectangular in shape.

This is a particular problem senior level graphic design students encountered during a Research and Application class in the Fall semester of 2016. Using photo ethnography, observational research, and visual anthropology, students learned and observed how and why visitors entered, moved through, and exited the Fine Arts Building (A building that is rectangular in shape). Based on their findings, students designed a wayfinding system for the building that heavily considered those who are mobility challenged.

An individual (we will call her Jane) from the Office of Student Disabilities, who is mobility challenged, volunteered to test the wayfinding systems. During the user test, dialogue ensued between both parties about what was missing, what could be done better, and what to think about for future iterations. Upon debriefing, students passionately discussed their systems and the building as a whole through Jane’s point of view. Experiencing movement through the building with Jane they unanimously decided the current systems are unacceptable for a campus deemed accessible. Furthermore, they were inspired by Jane’s encouragement and the notion of how their wayfinding could continually and positively impact a large audience.

“How hard is it to navigate a rectangle? Harder than you think” will feature project visuals, the unexpected drive to design for social good, and the issue of accessibility to inspire empathy through wayfinding.


This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 3.1: Kean University on Saturday, Oct 22, 2016.

Look Closer: Interaction, Interpretation, Environmental Storytelling

John Delacruz
Professor of Advertising
School of Journalism and Mass Communications
San Jose State University

The creative industries rely on interdisciplinary practices. They require team working skills and the ability to learn, support and help others in an increasingly inter-disciplinary environment.

Students at San Jose State University who aim to enter the creative industries have been working on a project with Santa Clara County Parks creating interactive and interpretive story tree installations on the Coyote Creek Parkway Trail at Hellyer County Park. This is the Coyote Creek Fables, part of a bigger project of artworks to be sited in Hellyer Park.

Our presentation will explore how the student team has evolved and produced a body of work that will exist in a real space, enhancing the trail and the Ranger-led talk, and online, supplementing the Coyote Creek fables with information and interactive elements shaping the user experience. How did the design process unfold? How did the experiential and improvisational pedagogical approaches help shape the outcomes? What are the Coyote Creek fables?

The concept, inspired by the Ohlone tribes of California and their associations with totem poles, is intended to enhance existing interpretive programs, while encouraging trail users to take a closer look at the wildlife found along the multi-use Coyote Creek Parkway Trail.

Our design team is a diverse mix group of undergraduate and graduate students with backgrounds in graphic design, journalism, photography, advertising, and mass communications. The project has enabled them to engage in collaborative, experiential practices where different skill sets have allowed peer mentoring to drive them to their final products.

The student team has engaged in peer to peer collaboration, and found ways to work remotely at times. They have developed awareness of natural history and environmental stewardship as they flex their creative muscles. The overall learning experience has provided them with a skill set that will help them navigate their future careers in the creative industries successfully.

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 3.1: Kean University on Saturday, Oct 22, 2016.