SEGD symposium to explore transatlantic philosophy gap

Leading environmental graphic designers from the US and Europe will meet next month in London at the first international symposium of the US-based Society of Environmental Graphic Design.

Organised by Holmes Wood director Alex Wood and David Gibson, principal of New York-based environmental graphic design consultancy Two Twelve, the Minding the Gap symposium on 22 October aims to understand how the industry differs on both sides of the Atlantic and swap examples of best practice.

Wood says, ’Within the US, environmental graphic design is a growing discipline. They’ve been taking it seriously for a number of years, whereas in the UK market it’s still a young area of design.’

But it is not just the practitioners SEGD aims to educate and nurture. According to Gibson, a key difference about the US and UK EGD scene is that US clients are more informed about commissioning environmental graphics.

Moira Gemmill, director of projects, design and estates at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum, which is hosting Minding the Gap, says, ’EGD is not a widely used term in the UK, but it is actually what we practise at the V&A. Many of the museums I have visited [in the US] follow the same principle – to create a fully integrated and inclusive design solution.’

UK-based Casson Mann is working on two US projects – the Benjamin Franklin Life and Legacy Museum in Philadelphia and Seaport in New York. Casson Mann associate Gary Shelley says that the main difference when working in the US is a greater emphasis on bilingual text.

He says, ’This adds another layer to the design as we would always try to look for a solution that integrated the idea of bilingual text rather than just have to add on translations.’

According to Gibson, a more striking difference is the belief in and the strength of public-realm projects in the UK. He says, ’In the US there is the perception that the private sector does design well whereas the public sector makes a hash of it.’

Wood adds, ’Europeans are more comfortable in their relationship with art and design as part of the public vocabulary and perhaps that is, in part, related to our history.’

Possibly what makes this international event so timely for its US attendees is that since the recession hit, the US EGD client base has shifted from the private sector towards public works projects, says Gibson. As the US environment changes to mimic ours, the conference then is not just about what UK consultancies can learn from the more established US scene, but also vice versa, he adds.

It is fitting then that the majority of European projects to be discussed at the symposium are from the public sector. Holmes Wood will discuss its V&A wayfinding projects, Michael Wolff will showcase design for the London 2012 Olympic Games and Applied Information Group creative director Tim Fendley will discuss the Legible London pedestrian wayfinding system, which won a SEGD design award this year.

Wood says, ’It’s timely because it’s a difficult market. Together we are stronger. We’re here to share advice and help each other – it’s not very British, is it?’

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