As it turns out, form matters just as much as function, particularly in regard to architectural structures. In the year 2018, consumers want buildings that make sense on a couple of different levels. A building should be easy to navigate but also pleasant to look at. It should be something positive and energizing. We’ve all walked into old buildings that feel like jails because they’re full of old concrete, bad lighting, and not enough windows. Every detail matters, including things like signage design that might otherwise be overlooked. What makes a successful design company? More than anything, it’s the ability to create something that appeals to as many of our senses as possible.
Design is an art form, but it extends beyond aesthetics. For instance, plenty of people can look at a piece of artwork without feeling like it needs to be particularly “useful.” Sometimes we just like to look at things that are aesthetically pleasing. There’s nothing wrong with that, but bad building design might be nice to look at and terribly hard to navigate. Good design should make people feel something from the first moment they walk through the door, if not sooner.
A longstanding Texas sports fan is going to look at The Star in Frisco, TX and see a lot more than just the headquarters of the Dallas Cowboys. They’re going to see the history of an iconic sports franchise, and it’s up to designers to engage with that sense of nostalgia. Sports teams can and do want to build new stadiums and arenas, but any franchise that fails to account for its own past is going to risk alienating a lot of fans.
Think of driving down a typical street in your hometown. If you’ve driven through a neighborhood hundreds of times before, it’s easy to turn on autopilot and not really pay attention unless something demands you sit up and take notice. We respond to things that are shiny and new, but we also respond to things that make sense in context. We’ve all said something like, “I don’t know why, but something about this just looks wrong.” Enter wayfinding design principles. If you’ve never heard of that term, don’t worry. Wayfinding design is focused primarily on navigability. If you’re in the first-floor lobby of a twenty-story building, wayfinding design should help you answer basic questions like, “Where am I?” If you have to stop and ask someone where you are, then there’s quite possibly been a design failure. Wayfinding design should also help you figure out the proper path to get to your intended destination. It shouldn’t confuse you or throw needless obstacles in your path. If you wanted to solve a series of puzzles, you could have gone to an escape room.
We often don’t even realize just how big a role navigability plays in the decisions we make. Let’s say you and your spouse are trying to figure out where to have dinner on a Friday night. You’ve narrowed it down to two possible restaurants, and then, suddenly, one of you remembers that construction downtown means the most obvious route to Restaurant A is blocked. Because you don’t want to bother figuring out an alternate route, you decide to go with Restaurant B. We do this with buildings as well. An event planner looking to book corporate functions in Brisbane will likely tour several venues before deciding to sign a contract with one. When they do, they’ll typically prefer venues that fit as much as possible under one roof. A hotel with restaurants and meeting rooms is especially ideal for out-of-town visitors who don’t want to risk getting lost in an unfamiliar city. Nowadays, most convention centers are adjacent to at least one big chain hotel, because they know conference and meeting attendees would much rather walk out of their hotel and simply cross the street to arrive at the conference space. At its best, wayfinding design works to make people as comfortable and secure as possible from the moment they step inside an unfamiliar space.