Community Design Critique

April 13, 2013

From early 2013, Catherine and four intern members, Sandy, Vicky, Adrian, and Carter, have been developing content for the bodies of work that will be presented at 221A Artist Run Centre on East Georgia St in Vancouver’s Chinatown during the upcoming exhibition in October and November 2013. Under Catherine’s supervision, each intern has initiated individual projects on the topic of wayfinding. In detail: Sandy’s focus has been on the series of maquettes being developed for a signage intervention in David Lam Park in June/13, while Adrian is developing a metal signage series – potentially for a public art piece for the Roundhouse site in 2014. In addition, I have been generating design concepts for transit shelter posters as a public art piece to be seen across Vancouver in the autumn of 2013.

On April 13th, we presented to our community collaborators the first phase of the potential signage designs for our upcoming Autumn 2013 exhibition. We had approximately 20 participants attend the critique, including those from our past 2012 walks and workshops, staff of the Roundhouse Community Centre, as well as members of the general public. The diverse attendees provided us with a pivotal opportunity to obtain invaluable feedback to further direct the bodies of work.

The event took place in Room B at the Roundhouse, Yaletown, where we set up a small exhibition of our current work in progress by exhibiting our sample prints and mockups of each of the three bodies of work in development. On one platform, we had our image printouts and mockups for the series of maquettes being developed for the June 2013 park intervention which Sandy Chang is working on. This demonstration included different sizes of the circle maquettes we have reviewed, alongside the potential image content. On another wall we had several samples of triangular-shaped mock-ups for the metal signage series which Adrian Wu is developing. For my project we hung one of Anna Ruth’s public art bus shelter posters from her Sensory Maps series, which was displayed across the city during the 2010 Olympics. Beside which we taped out the actual size of a bus shelter poster so participants could perceive the scale of our potential work, which will be centred on renderings of actual photographs we took of folks doing their daily activities and everyday wayfinding in Yaletown.

At the beginning of the session Catherine gave a brief introduction on the development of the wayfinding project which began in 2012. This allowed a short description of the background for people who were new to the project. The opportunity became an informative avenue of insight for people on the overall thematics, structure and content of the artwork in development, before reviewing the next phases of our presentations. Each of the bodies of work in development evoked animated responses from ourcurious onlookers as we briefly provided explanations of each series. Some participants who were familiar with the project gave us feedback regarding content and design, especially in relation to their experiences on walks and in workshops with us.

We moved to Room A for our screen presentations on our process during the past few months, as Room B was too bright with skylights. Adrian started with his description of his work in progress. He started out by giving a brief introduction about wayfinding and signage, referencing Kevin Lynch who had been brought to our attention during 2012 research, workshops and essays by Madeleine Hebert, one of our colleagues and past project interns. During Adrian’s presentation, an intense dialogue with the audience pertaining to his design proposals started, in which helpful feedback relating to the colour, shape, and content were debated and obtained. I was very shocked during Adrian’s presentation by how engaged the audience was. From my experience of studio critiques at Emily Carr University, I thought this public critique would be a formal presentation, focusing more on informing the audience of our work in progress than creating discussion; however it turned out to be a very passionate debate amongst the audience members. The people were eager to help, and strongly stated their opinions on all design elements that Adrian asked about. Some also gave sharp feedback on certain elements that lacked visual strength and coherence. The conversations about Adrian’s design got pretty long, taking up almost half of our time planned for the presentations. Time flew by as we delved deeply on Adrian’s project; regardless the time spent was very worthwhile. It was an amusing scene that I have never experienced before.

Next, Sandy presented on the different signage designs for the upcoming park intervention which involved lots of ideas and considerations for the colours to be used in the maquettes. The participants also gave positive responses to the rendered photographic images and words that would possibly go onto the maquettes. The intense dialogue sparked by Adrian’s visuals now shifted focus to Sandy’s design decision in regards to the maquette colour pallette. This valid and unexpected discussion led to some great take away information on the proposed colors. Comments related to emotive qualities of blue and hot pink, therefor should be used carefully as the colors may be associated stereotypically with boys and girls. Pastel yellow, blue, and pink examples had a cultural context which reminded people of easter eggs. While taking in consideration in regards to the colours, being open-minded gave me a new perspective on my work. I realized that I needed to step back from the project and look at the designs in a totally new point of view. It was a great opportunity for me to sit and examine Sandy’s design as an audience member and be a part of the community critique, asking questions from an outside presence to the design process. A lady also pointed out how she has never seen signage in turquoise and enjoyed seeing signs that were in colours other than orange and yellow (the commonly used colours seen in typical street signs). The majority of the community members agreed that the bright vibrant colors did make sense and went along well with our concept. Listening to their thoughts relating their experiences to our designs was eye opening. It helped me understand and realize once again the importance of the user experience when working on our project, which is especially important when relating it to urban space and social environments.

Finally, I presented my developing transit shelter posters. Although I shook off some of my nervousness during Adrian’s and Sandy’s presentations, I began to have butterflies when it was my turn to stand in front of the public. I was awkward and shy at first when asking group opinions on specific design elements that I wanted feedback on, but I soon became comfortable with the friendly unfamiliar face, it made making eye contact and conversation much easier. The dark room also helped me overcome my fears of public speaking. During my presentation there was similarly a lot of discussion about potential use of color, typeface and font, and suggestions for layout and the ultimate designs. Some people thought the posters looked like movie advertisements, instead of being an invitation for our exhibition. This was affirming feedback because we had intended the posters to be a public art project in and of themselves, in addition to being a communication device to both our project website and the exhibition at 221A October 25th to November 23, 2103. With such an enthusiast group of participants, we ran over time toward the end of the presentation, having a very productive meeting with the audience. Through this experience I gained a lot of confidence in my public speaking and social skills. I always had trouble speaking in front of the public and tried to get it over with as soon as possible. However, this time it was different. As soon as I got comfortable with the audience, I started to enjoy the time I was up presenting my work and received valuable ideas from an open discussion. I realized the importance of this public critique for our designs in development. I believe it was an opportunity for all of us to look back at our designs with fresh eyes and to obtain new ideas from all the great feedback from the community. The overall feedback we received on each body of work was surprisingly supportive and helpful in refining our processes and designs.

This experience provided me with an invaluable opportunity to present and receive feedback from the general public. The community design critique was very different from my expectations, presenting in front of the public was very challenging but educational at the same time. I obtained new presenting skills on how to effectively interact with the audience in order to create conversations on my designs. Moreover, receiving various feedback from people with different backgrounds expanded my scope and perspectives. For instance, participants who are graphic designers gave informative feedback on colour and type, whereas attendees with experience in Wayfinding tended to give constructive responses on the content of our overall bodies of work, in relation to project goals. Overall, this opportunity created a platform to reflect my presentation skills and as an artist, increasing my level of confidence and professionalism, all while being an enjoyable experience.

Adrian Wu Metal Signage in Development
Sandy Chang Maquette Series in Development
Vicky KimTransit Shelter Posters in Development

Essay by Vicky Kim