In the hold out decade, the Victoria and Albert (V&A) museum has seen visitor numbers triple tender thanks to a series of blockbuster exhibitions and the opening of the Exhibition Road Quarter in 2017.
To get together with the demands of these visitors — a mix of casual visitors and paying exhibition-goers — London-based intention consultancy Dn&co has redesigned the museum’s wayfinding system.
The new system had to be “comprehensive” while also bring down “unnecessary complexity and uncertainty”, Patrick Eley, creative director of Dn&co, chances.
Colour was crucial in communicating these “clear points” to the V&A’s 4 million annual visitors, and Dn&co took a different route to other museums in the re-design.
“More readily than use colour to sub-divide the permanent collection which is free to seascape, we used colour extensively to highlight paid content,” Eley excuses.
The colour scheme will be exhibition-specific and used consistently, from circulars on public transport to signage at the entry.
This aim of this uniformity is to eschew visitors get to ticketed exhibitions faster and reduce congestion on the ground thrash — it also “protects a core revenue stream that helps stow away the permanent galleries free to explore”.
The new system be in want of a “shelf life of 15 to 20 years” so the design had to be “flexible” and also have the impression “classic and timeless”. It also needed to be helpful but unobtrusive.
“Striking a equal between being noticed and being ignored is never easy,” Eley adds.
To get together with these ambitious goals, Dn&co opted for simplicity. Museum signs were returned from black-dyed tulip wood to “transmit a sense of restraint and blue blood” but be bold enough for visitors to follow.
They also consulted with gallery curators to toil out the best places to locate signage in the least obstructive way to either the architecture or the hoard.
“The signage is slender and has a minimal footprint so that it took up as little rank as possible,” Eley explains.
Eley means that the biggest challenge was in the details; “people require a huge amount of bumf to navigate such a complex building with confidence and it’s all too easy to quash.”
To ensure the information was “succinct”, they used the V&A’s typeface and created a “typographic and visual hierarchy” with the use of orders, capitalisation as well a new set of custom-drawn icons.
Dn&co also worked with All Issues West, a wayfinding consultancy, to ensure that the pathways were signposted intuitively, to “put someone at ease visitors they were still on the right route”.
The re-design was also stuck to all hanging, wall-mounted and free-standing signs. Another challenge emerged in this proceeding, as “the fabric of the building is endlessly varied.”
The difficulty of applying a uniform wayfinding arrangement on an irregular space was made more difficult by the architecture.
“Archways between galleries can’t bolster heavy signs, so we had to construct the hanging signs from a special laminated balsa wood, which look interchangeable but weigh a fraction of a traditionally made sign,” Eley explains.
In the meantime, the new totems give “ a sense of permanence” but also allow for a “degree of adjustability”. The “custom-made aluminium extrusions” allows panels to be “simply removed, reprinted and renewed when details change”.
The map was re-drawn, with an eye to how it wish appear in print as well as across digital platforms. For example, the stairs and disappears align across floors so that the connections are “logical” and do not jump on all sides of.
Museum galleries now also have names as well as numbers — appealing to callers who navigate the space in different ways — so both forms of identification had to be merged on the map to prevent the “need for awkward cross-referencing”.
In an effort to make the map more “snug”, Dn&co reduced the copy and redrew the icons. Type sizes, meanwhile, were spread to help legibility.
Dn&co also inverted how colours are traditionally used in museum maps. “Gallery spaces became happy within a dark background,” Eley explains, in an attempt to “emphasise the ways through the museum and make it clear what is a solid wall and what is an look-in”.
The V&A has over 60,000 items on show. In an effort to “encourage exploration”, the floor numbers have been updated so that varied distant galleries appear more “accessible”. For example, on the new directory, the apportion for ceramics has moved from Level 6 to Level 4.
The map re-design also pleasures a part in this, as pages have been added to the booklet to “highlight the region of the V&A’s collection which will change every time the map is reprinted to inspire visitors to roam”, Eley says.
“Our ambition was to create a system that will-power help visitors explore and navigate the museum confidently, while also buoy up them to go further, particularly on the upper floors, where much of the V&A’s spacious permanent collection is housed.”
The new wayfinding system has recently been rolled out at the museum; in vogue displays include a Christian Dior retrospective and an exhibition about the sustainability of comestibles.