Form + Space + Experience: Architecture and Environmental Graphic Design

It wasn’t until the 1970s that Environmental Graphic Design was formally recognized as a design discipline, but it has been around as long as humans have felt the need to name and consecrate spaces and connect them with stories. The earliest examples of EGD include classical inscriptions, wall murals, and even cave paintings, but by the 20th century in particular, architecture and graphic design were frequently engaging with one another.

As award-winning designer Richard Poulin notes in his upcoming book Graphic Design + Architecture: A 20th-Century History(Rockport Publishers, September 2012), the two disciplines are inextricably intertwined.

“Architecture speaks of form, space, and purpose, celebrating human continuity and offering experiences that both function and inspire,” says Poulin, SEGD Fellow and founding principal of Poulin + Morris (New York). “Graphic design—typography, image, and symbol—communicates the subtleties of time and place and tells cultural and visual stories, clarifying a building’s purpose and echoing its architectural message.”

The modern discipline of EGD is rooted in architectural signage, but has evolved to encompass a broad range of design disciplines that often work together to provide a sense of place, guide people through complex spaces, and tell stories that provide context in the built environment. Today, great EGD happens when cross-disciplined “creators” collaborate to develop inspired, information-rich, emotionally compelling experiences. Outcomes span a dramatic range of applications—from a multimedia Times Square extravaganza to a contemplative art installation, from a hospital wayfinding system to a large-scale sporting event, and from a museum exhibition to a three-dimensional brand expression. No longer restricted to the medium of signage, the most successful EGD solutions embrace architectural context, functionality, and the user experience.

Projects included in this issue of Architype Review dramatically illustrate the impact that EGD can have on the built environment. In the dreary, concrete caverns of a huge parking garage, emerystudio (Melbourne) created a memorablewayfinding experience using perspectival distortion. At the Grey Group headquarters in New York, Pentagram partner PaulaScher conceived lively, super-scaled graphics and sculptural elements tuned to the advertising agency’s culture. And at the University of Washington (USA) Foster School of Business, Karen Cheng and Kristine Matthews used type and word play to transform a mundane elevator ride into an experience that reflects the school’s culture and values.

Each of these projects, and many others included in this issue, were created by members of SEGD—the vital, growing, global community of professionals who create visual communications in the built environment. SEGD members include architects and graphic designers, interior and retail designers, industrial and digital designers, branding and experience consultants, interaction and user experience designers, technology integrators, fabricators, design educators, students, and others who have a hand in bringing design concepts to reality.

SEGD was established in 1974 to share best practices and define high standards of professional practice in EGD. Today,SEGD’s mission is to Educate, Connect, and Inspire the global multi-disciplinary EGD community. Through innovative educational programs (such as Xlab 2012, November 7-8 in Austin, Texas), its annual SEGD Global Design Awards, and publications including its award-winning eg magazine, SEGD provides learning opportunities and resources for professionals involved in creating environmental graphics, promotes the importance of the discipline in establishing place, and continues to refine standards of practice for the field. For more information, visit

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