Lions and libraries and signage, oh my! As the new intern for the Arrowstreet graphics department, I was excited to join a small group of Arrowstreeters on a tour of the large volume of completed graphics and wayfinding work at the Boston Public Library. Over the course of the project, Bob Lowe, Lauren Haggerty, and Jen Hoerig have filled many roles in the development and installation of directories, signage, interior graphics, and decorative elements throughout the library.
At the start of our wayfinding tour, huge bronze directories greeted us as we entered the McKim building. Bob explained how differences in architecture usually help library-goers mentally separate the two buildings, so the names of the architects—McKim and Johnson—provided a simple way to initially orient visitors. Much of the simplicity ends here, as the buildings’ multiple levels and nonlinear paths made for a challenge when first developing a wayfinding plan. They needed more input, and surveyed a wide cross-section of visitors to determine the most important to components of the signage – for example, where to actually check out a book! The team also dealt with the challenges of providing signage within a historic building and finding the best places to affix signage around delicate building features.
Moving from the marble staircases and classical architecture of McKim to the heavier concrete of the Johnson building, open expanses of red and blue contrast with the deeper greys at the open center of the building. As a result, we were told, signage became more subdued, with the focus changing to include large, visible text to help every visitor spot their desired shelf. Color returns in full force, though, on the southwest side. The Children’s Library features wall graphics and an interior environment of Lauren and Bob’s design, which interestingly aims to grow with kids as their reading levels progress. The Teen Room is more literal, featuring train maps and road signs supplied by MassDOT and the MBTA.
Hearing their thoughts and seeing their visual innovations revealed the Graphics team’s attention to detail. They seem to have a special skill in combining resonant city imagery with fundamental design principles to create something engaging, thoughtful, and most importantly, a perfect fit for the library.