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Text and Photography

Lauren Russell


Text and Photography

Lauren Russell


dedicated to design


purposeful signage

Gone are the days when some neighborhood businesses would rely on a local painter to create their signage. One painter with a notable style and one, maybe two colors. New housing development identities for neighborhoods are making a sea change. While some choose to represent historical aspects of the area, others consider those aspects the “old look” of the neighborhood and attempt to use design to transform the area’s appearance. Through graphic design, this process directly communicates gentrification, or the arrival of a new social demographic to less affluent areas of the city. The dilution of sign painting techniques that exist in “old” signage is an example of this. Mostly considered obsolete these days, this process was effective in creating recognizable and earnest forms that can still resonate with new and existing residents today. Neighborhood signage plays countless roles and speaks to various audiences. It can range from clear and succinct to expressive and decorative. There are various ways to reach residents. In areas in transition with significant plans for gentrification, signage can indicate what will happen with the space. Language such as “there goes the neighborhood” previously referred to manicured streets spiraling into an area of decrepitude and squalor. Now, this saying can refer to a neighborhood’s character dissipating into plain, emotionless typographic treatments that overtake its characteristic signage in an effort to change its image (Zukin). On one hand these spaces suffer from potential visual displacement of signage known as a landmark to the area. On another hand, replacing signage of laundromats and car washes signals progress, allowing gentrifiers to infiltrate the city in an effort to transform the area, allowing valuable resources to come into these communities.

Signage acts as a clear signal to both new and old residents. New signage can signify an area’s change, while existing signage serves as a tangible historical reference to the culture of the neighborhood before its transition. Vernacular signage is familiar to long time residents and it visually appeals to existing residents, while new signage is more sophisticated and casts a wide net in terms of to whom it is addressed. Design marketing to a new demographic appears methodical and less personal. Design firms assigned to these projects often hold strategic branding sessions to establish what message will work for a particular crowd. Additionally, new signage attempts to reach a wider range of people, offering design aspects, such as coherence and diversity in an effort for the transformation to relate to most people. The purpose of this thesis project is to dissect things that neighborhood signage can reveal in an urban environment. It will define the boundaries that exist through signage and how it is used in parts of Washington, D.C. For instance, appropriated signage is an effort to hold these historical qualities close to the city’s inevitable development, while transitional signage defines the development as an opportunity to freshen the communities who need it. Through understanding the distinction between the two, designers will be able to decide how elements of their craft can affect a resident’s outlook on their home.


transitional signage Transitional signage can be found in areas of the city where new developments are popping up. Oftentimes, they feature marketing language and design that pertains to an alternate demographic that does not live in the area.

Efforts to create today’s signage often rely on today’s technology. With boundless possibilities, professional and amateur designers alike are able to create signage in hopes to capture attention and sell homes. Examining instances where new developments infiltrate old neighborhoods in Washington, DC often show their visual and socio-economic divide. This form of division is clear from the fabrication, to the messaging, to the imagery used. There is an aspect of this signage that reflects the neighborhood’s transition. This type of transition is often marked with designed construction banners that place a barrier between the public and the current construction that promises to revive the area. The signage offers visual cues for the future of the neighborhood and the people to whom the area is marketed. While some have a conservative style, others can include elements such as typographic treatments, colors and imagery that are adapted from the existing vernacular of the surrounding area. From a visual perspective, transitional signage can clash with an existing area’s vernacular. It outwardly signifies change; in doing this, it depicts the visual shift of an area. Major developments depict large scale change banners that communicate plans for the space. Illustrative renderings or photos of multiple demographics represent various races and ethnic groups intermingling in a mixed-use space. The signage acts as a signal for gentrification. Americans have always been acutely conflicted about the city as a viable dwelling place, despite the fact that our population has become increasingly urban. but the value placed on open space—the edenic model—is by no means an American prerogative. (Yelavich) Yelavich introduces the idea that transitional signage attempts to sell. Areas of the city that were previously unsafe or less affluent now show progress in both of those categories. These banners are an icon of stylized progress and change; the signage offers tangibility through type and image. They represent the edenic model, or an idealized lifestyle, through the banner’s composition. Transitional projects represent clear design that makes use of its compositional space, supplemented with imagery that illustrates possibilities for the unfinished space and potential residents. They make use of complementary colors. Treatments with sophisticated messaging and typographic stability show the community’s plans to transform. The transcending of space is easily highlighted as these areas are not normally host to this idealized style of design. In marketing a new community, some designers are unaware of what they are omitting through design. The existing heritage of the neighborhood is in trouble if these aspects are ignored. When developments build newer spaces on the current landscape, some visual information about the city as it was is bound to get lost. Information about familiar businesses owned by residents of the area are at stake. A disruption of familiarity, demolishing the spaces, is evident for a long time resident. As existing signage and architecture become uprooted, negative feelings can come with these actions. Sociologist Sharon Zukin discusses culture as a form of divisiveness that is utilized as a means of controlling cities. As transitional banners appear, “it symbolizes ‘who belongs’ in specific places” (Zukin 1).


“rather, the graffiti. . .reflects a discourse of resistance which has emerged amidst a changing repertoire of political and economic strategies and tactics. the graffiti results from and is part of an interactive dialogue between. . .graffiti artists and their perceived adversaries.” John Dale

The large banners span across construction sites, and if they tell a story, they are often hung to storyboard the series of ads. The composition of transitional signage contains elements that were chosen to market the space. Refined design presented across these panels communicates credibility and trust to the new resident it is attempting to attract, but it also has qualities that seem distrustful and unfamiliar. Separation of residents of the area is clear in design. Gestures of rebuttal against the new developments can become clear. When new residents begin to occupy a neighborhood, existing residents can feel displaced. In the photo, Graffiti is sprayed on a transitional banner which undermines the developer’s intention. As informal feedback, the graffiti acts as an indication of existing residents’ feelings of resentment by reinforcing the existing vernacular through graffiti tags. Some vandalize the banners that represent change. This is a direct response that makes a statement about gentrification. Graffiti tags and symbols have meanings of their own, meanings that are known to those living in this part of the community. Graffiti symbols can also be a subset of the vernacular and spraying them onto the banners works against the printed message. The presence of graffiti on the signage reflects the contestation or a refusal to accept the gentrification. Often, graffiti artists characterize the neighborhood in which they frequent, so the graffiti tag’s repetitive nature can also become part of the vernacular.


High design follows guidelines that are common and standard among graphic designers, such as typographic rules, spatial sense, and color application. The term high design can refer to design that is formally taught. This form of design is often consistent, professional and authoritative. The level of perceived professionalism and formality in high design allows gentrifiers to associate it with safety and reputability. This image displays the banner for Washington, DC contracting company, Grunley, is clear and prominent enough for placement against a work in progress. Grunley’s tagline, “Building on Tradition” reinforces the longevity and stability that high design suggests. When creating transitional signage, designers consider elements of high design, such as a systematic approach to content layout. Designers choose clear typography that is conservative, and the purpose of the signage on the construction site is to validate the area’s transition. These visual solutions simplify the message for a community; they direct information to the new development’s target market. Large-scale typography prominently spans across banners, contrasting with signage of a cluttered street side. Typography selected for these transitional signs sends a clear message to the viewers that this banner is ephemeral; it can take many forms. This is successful for most construction companies who take on different personas in developing urban areas. In order to attract multiple demographics based on the needs of the community, these companies use different design elements, yet the repeated assertion of their brand legitimizesthe work. Techniques such as expressive wording, typography and imagery may also reflect the developers’ message. For instance, double entendres or puns are often used. The message displays the tagline, “Be Out Front.” The designer used a sans serif, which establishes solidarity upon the sign and communicates the informality of the message. Using the banner ad’s messaging (on the left) relates to the culture of the area. The double entendre “Be Out Front” activates two sides of the banner’s message. One message is directed toward people that frequent the Southeast Waterfront/Navy Yard area and indicates the revitalization efforts. It acts as a welcome mat to anyone who is interested in enjoying a new take on the area, and also communicates a progressive way of looking at the area because of the new and durable material used. The message in the banner ads relates specifically to the culture of the occupied area. Another message reflects consumerist architecture that, as architect John Chase discusses, is applied here as an explanation for consumerist graphic design. Popular culture and the double entendres or puns within subcultures is displayed on the banner to the left. Another reference uses “Be Out Front” to relate to the proximity of the Washington Nationals Baseball Stadium, and the location of the area on the DC waterfront. The signage references the neighborhood. Here, the tagline refers to the stadium, making use of the baseball term, which refers to the batter swinging “out front” too soon, thus missing the ball as it is pitched. To do so, WCS uses the baseball reference that relates to the specific area, as well as one that references the spatial proximity to the waterfront. Additionally, the term can also project how developers want people to feel about the space. If they are “out front,” then they are ahead of others in terms of visiting the newly developed area. The Capital Riverfont signage encourages frequent visitation to the revitalized area where city planners are attempting to gain traffic. The importance of new signage also lies in the refinements of typography, image, content hierarchy and color. Through design, signage conveys how the neighborhood’s reception informs the rest of the city and potential buyers. Though developers sometimes call out to the existing neighborhood, they also call out to what they wish for the new area to be. They do not do this through the use of vernacular typography, or colors, yet through vernacular wording coupled with standard graphic design form. Consumers and businesses are divided into clustered groups, each with its own special interests, lifestyles and affinity for particular goods and services. consumer segments are usually defined by demographic and psychographic information.


Existing residents will scrutinize these efforts when they do not see themselves represented in the future of the area. Developers enter the psyche of a consumer or potential resident to the area. If they do not know what will appeal in terms of wording, then the design of the piece is objective. It only works for the effectiveness of the layout, but the meaning becomes lost. It is important to understand what will spark interest in the community before designing for a community (Jackson, Wheeler). On the surface, it appears that the signage speaks to all residents or potential residents, but on further inspection, the signage has a clear message to new neighbors by contrasting the existing visual vernacular. This sets this signage apart from the existing area and locates the area as potential ground for development. Banners are the most recognizable symbol of a neighborhood’s transition. Typography dominates their composition. The mission of these pieces lies the message, so designers tend to make typography large. Typefaces vary from serif to sans serif, from legible to expressive. Sometimes, there is a marketing statement (“Be Out Front”, ”Slide Into Home”, “Live in the Mix”, “Take a New View on Life”) displays as the clearest, highest hierarchical level, with minimal supporting messages. The top level makes the most impact and is set quite large because it must be able to connect with viewers in cars, as well as on the street. The scale of the type is often large in relation to the imagery. The large type, paired with an image illustrates excitement and anticipation about new. Images show aspirational lifestyles, which can exclude subcultures of the area’s origin. These banner images suggest residents living in an open floor plan for instance. The relationship between type and image is often objectified. From this emerges a form that is disconnected from the rest of the area. Images, when included, appear disconnected from the typography. The disconnect between the elements may have to do with the construction banner’s impermanence. Architectural renderings or photographs are incorporated. Existing residents will scrutinize these efforts when they do not see themselves represented in the future of the area. This inescapable public construct naturally becomes a topic for public discussion (Krivanek).


Spanning construction sites are construction banners. As the heart of direct transitional signage, these pieces introduce a visual story for potential residents. Through typography, color and image, the banners shield the view of chaotic construction, and focus on its potential. The imagery on these banners can be photography, renderings of people, or objects. Created for optimal viewing in a busy street scene, the banners have a message that is similar, despite all of the different designs. The message is “Come live here.” The banners use compositional graphic design structure such as elemental alignment, color study, typographic form and content hierarchy. Typography is minimal; words are set in a large point size in order to be visible from distances. Designers use a work horse (typefaces that visually work well despite their point size) serif or sans serif accompanied by a decorative display face, these often read as campaign literature advertising the environment—clever tag lines that reflect the area, or promises of a better quality of life. The typography is clear and stands on a similar hierarchical level with the name of the developer. In the instance of The Shay, and other developments like it,, a clear typographic lockup exists in conjunction with the brand’s marketing jargon. This form of typography is stacked on top of one another in a clear sans serif in order to relate to storefront signage of an earlier era. Artists and designers use imagery to sell the idea and tell the story to the site’s potential residents. Selling an artistic point of view has proven to be an effective form of transitioning the neighborhood (Ley). Artists are often new residents unafraid of unchartered territory; they often see the potential in the space and are willing and excited to migrate there. Visually, The Shay DC appears as an exciting place for gentrifiers to start fresh, much like a blank canvas. The use of photography and solid, methodical typographic solutions communicate stability; this is the proposed messaging that The JBG Companies attempt to tell of these new properties. The message complements the historical name of the neighborhood, Shaw, Shay, as its reputation has always been a neighborhood that considers aspects of design through the liveliness of the location.


Though The Shay presents new apartments that tailor to a young resident as the visual platform, the color is minimal. These elements are represented through textural applications onto the typography and images. The typography is black, with snapshots of people fading out in some areas to simulate connectivity; these snapshots also depict its models as celebrities. This solution can show characteristic design, while still providing a fresh solution. Much has to do with the area that is being developed; this approach may be more relatable, accessible and familiar in the developing. These banners often depict the target audience’s existing lifestyle, or an aspirational life. Pairing the typographic style of products that the new neighbors already consume is one strategy. A generic typographic treatment is applied to these banners. Typography dominates the composition and is often centered. It sometimes uses expressive typography. They often show sophistication and character, so the designers chose an appropriate typeface. Banners convey the infiltration of a new neighbor by separating from any specific typographic style. These banners stand out, much like the neighbors they are inviting. Signage in transitional areas is not always banners. The banner may not rely on the vernacular of an existing area, but the vernacular of the wider audience. With new development comes new businesses that need new signage. Some businesses often see transitional neighborhoods as an opportunity to design to complement the area. Designers may take existing signage and improve it. Efforts like these transform vernacular signage and existing structures within the area, but they tailor themselves to the community that already stands.


diversity and inclusiveness are our only home. it is not possible to plaster everything over with clean elegance. dirty architecture, fuzzy theory and dirty design must also be out there. Sheila Levrant de Bretteville


Disregarding the visual brand of struggling neighborhoods will have a long term adverse effect. It is problematic to replace vernacular signage with signage that is void of culture, distant, generic or free form. Ailing communities need attention, but replacing their vernacular with new fads, as much of the new signage does, is a way to lose historical references in the community. A visual connection with long term neighbors is key to feeling at home. De Bretteville warns against the infiltration of polished design in urban spaces. She stresses that designers should look at the space for what it is, and discourages designers from distancing themselves from the community with a crisp aesthetic. Designers should be malleable in their approach in order to solve a problem. Environmental designers should research the area to find the solution that best fits everyone, and not necessarily the best design solution (de Bretteville, Kalman). Vernacular signage was designed to meet an area’s specific needs and this is why it works (Kalman).


Design swings like a pendulum. In economics, the Trickle Down/Trickle Up theory, depended on the state of the economy. Money will “trickle down” from the wealthier socio-economic classes into lower income brackets or “trickle up” from poor areas into the wealthier areas. In Ellen Lupton’s essay entitled “Low and High: Design in Everyday Life,” she references Modernism, a 1950s and ‘60s era in graphic design, as a standard for what was considered high design. As the same time, Lupton discusses the subculture, “junk culture,” which belonged to everyday, consumer culture, perceived as neglecting the principles of high design. As Modernism became less of a standard, designers searched for something fresh. One example of low design was grunge, where designers experimented with a less refined approach. Culture informed design that trickled up from the subculture. Vernacular signage is a recognizable approach that refers to areas in which the existing culture is strong, thus forming timeless design. Despite its humble beginnings, vernacular signage has a place in neighborhoods, and defines specific parts of the city.

appropriated vernacular is signage that relates to a neighborhood, and can display charm and wit to the area’s potential residents. appropriated vernacular is strategic, but its presence can also be read as insincere. Ellen Lupton

Design operates from the ground up when it comes to the vernacular. Professional designers take practices of non-designers or amateur designers and adopt them as their own. This is the appropriated vernacular; designers imitate less refined approaches to reach a certain audience, or even to blend graphics into an area. Jeffery Keedy associates vernacular design with nostalgia; he accuses designers using the vernacular of resting on the laurels of another generation, neglecting to create something new while relying on nostalgia to


evoke some sense of emotion so that their solutions seem more meaningful (Keedy). Still, new signage can use the vernacular to tell the story of the neighborhood. Businesses can use it to blend their new shop with shops that have been there for decades. It is a way to respect the neighborhood while maintaining its character and a viable solution. Some businesses build upon vernacular signage, some businesses reuse signage as a way to pay homage to the existing landmark. They are aware that something came before them, such as the old site (shown on the right) of an auto body shop becoming the site for new condominiums, or repurposing the letters of an old grocery store site. They are cognizant of the existence of a visual landmark, and what that may mean to people who may have lived there for generations. It is a play on development.

What makes the success of these communities is their commitment to cooperate, their clear, levelheaded problem identification, and the help of specialists who can explore problems and develop solutions that set a stable foundation for revitalization. Herein lies the challenge to environmental graphic designers—they must be able to analyze the problem and make the solution fit within a larger strategy for revitalization. . .there is no room for design in a vacuum. Elizabeth Jackson

Reclaiming materials also illustrates a connection between a community’s past and future. It shows cooperation and consideration of the importance of previous design elements. Transforming the signage encourages new developments to fit in with what has already been established. Specifically, the inclusion of the auto body sign in this construction site is clever and innovative when placed against other developer sites.


vernacular signage In well established areas, especially those with historical context, vernacular signage is often the established visual language of an area. This can include signage for businesses, residences, and street art.

Debated for decades, designers have vastly different opinions about vernacular design’s place in the industry. Defined as visual slang, or language (Kalman), vernacular design illustrates characteristics of a neighborhood. Often found in older neighborhoods, the look of vernacular signage is original and largely specific to the area. It fulfills a need to communicate general information about the area or business. This type of design is vernacular because of the acceptance of these graphics within the area. The form then becomes a style for that particular neighborhood and the community. There is a lack of attention paid to professional graphic design fundamentals, such as typography, but it communicates to its intended viewers. Vernacular design is created in the community, for the community. It works well in historical areas, because the design is as much part of these areas as the architecture. For instance, a faded hand painted vernacular signage is still visible today in cities and its continued existence marks a place in time. Referred to as ghost signage, these letters create a message that has not worn away from building facades. Crafting these signs came from necessity and practicality. Graphic designer Tibor Kalman stated that letterforms which are painted or written by hand still are the most effective way to spread information to a large, multi demographic audience. Because of its simplicity and use of modest materials, vernacular signage can appear as though it is from a previous time period. It has worked across decades where higher design trends fail (Kalman). This form is much more lucid; it offers a visual language that is prevalent and distinguishable in the neighborhoods (Mars). Local sign painters have had a hand in creating the look of a neighborhood. Vernacular design can be as a lesson to contemporary designers on the effectiveness of content layout (Kalman, Mars).


Simple graphic packages will stand the test of time. downtowns do not have to upgrade their graphics as a means to mask the anachronistic design of the place. the simpler, the more classic the graphic solution, the longer it will serve its purpose in the district. Elizabeth Jackson

Jackson stresses the importance of maintaining an area’s visual identity. When the area does not change its image—such as the signage of local business, housing, vernacular architecture, and even address numbers—it sends a message to outsiders. It communicates that the neighborhood values its past and is a familiar place to those who reside there. It shows a level of comfort with the signs that other, redeveloped urban areas abandoned. It shows that the citizens of the area saw no need to change; this reflects safety and solidarity within the community. An area’s vernacular signage can also indicate gentrification has not yet arrived.


Our different cultural trainings, earned in schools, on the street, through popular culture, and in subcultures like skateboarding train us to have different perspectives which create different cultural categories. Mike Mills


As referenced, Mills discusses the many implications that go into the design created in any area. Often times, lower income areas have small businesses, such as barber shops and laundromats. The business owners are not designers, but obviously take pride in what they are selling, so they tend to visually mark their business using their own style.. They want to market their services, and this is a familiar and accepted use of design. Graphics like these informally establish vernacular design of the particular area. These cultural experiences mold the type of design that their customers appreciate. When one type of design dominates the community and streetscape, one can infer which design is more appropriate for the neighborhood.


Vernacular signage originated in areas with low graphic design rather than highly designed signage. It comes down to cost—the inexpensive painted sign, the direct communication of a back-lit sign, and the lower maintenance and production process that more professional signage may require. Areas with vernacular signage have a distinct look. This form of visual communication reflects local shops and businesses. In the 1930s and ‘40s, some sign painters based entire careers on their technique. With the competition between sign painters, they worked harder at perfecting their craft to gain loyalty among their customers (Mars). Today, this loyalty is apparent when an entire city block looks the same. Loyalty, especially among multi-generational residents, also communicates safety, trust and familiarity. The signage also connects with the area because signs have been carefully crafted to reflect locals. They are often void of refinement, and some appear to be created with a passion for the areas they define.


the vernacular is designed as if design were a regular thing to do, and not the sacred mission of an elite professional class. it is design that has not been ordered and purified by the methods of trained practitioners. its communication without the strategy, marketing, or the proprietary quantitative research. and that is what is good about it. Tibor Kalman


Graphic designers look to vernacular signage because of its simplicity and direct approach. Tibor Kalman spent much of his design career discussing what designers can do for society as opposed to how society can benefit from high design. Kalman refers to vernacular design as a natural response to the question of how to effectively communicate to a wide range of people. Often, the communities that house vernacular design look ordinary and more personal. Vernacular design has personality. The creation of these signs from ordinary people hosts an identification within their neighborhood. Omitting or disregarding this style makes a community unfamiliar to longtime residents; it strips away its character and warmth. Vernacular signage is design that has stood the test of time. When the appearance, message, and location of the signs stay the same, it makes the space appear safe and familiar to its long-term residents. In her book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs discusses the associations of a “neighborhood” and all of its implications. Like warm apple pie, or as she puts it, valentines, the term neighborhood conveys the same familiarity as nostalgic lettering on a piece of signage. Jacobs’ discussion of terms such as “neighborhood” in city planning are similar ideas can be applied to hand painted signs (Jacobs 173). Vernacular signage has a unique quality enjoyed not only by prospective inhabitants, but by people who have lived there for generations. The differences between vernacular signage and transitional signage is simple, recognizing its implications makes their tactical uses clear. This storefront in Takoma Park, DC displays a window with hand painted typography. Using only two colors of paint, the sign painter achieves hierarchy through a contrast of text size, scale and proportion. The slanted type also creates another hierarchical level that continues the grouping of information when scale is absent. The title of the business is outlined to stand out from the rest of the information. The use of white in the rule below the classifications and the phone number could have been more successful if used in red, leaving the words as white, so it could be seen prominently. The words above “TV Repairs,” are chipped, and show the wear-and-tear of hand painted vernacular signage. This is important when analyzing the life span of a vernacular sign. Like the ghost signage, weathering is an indicator of an old sign playing into the familiarity and comfort that the community associates with the sign. The sign’s maker was more than likely not a professional designer, but the sign still appears to have credibility. Signage like this blends in with the surrounding signage and becomes a style for the area. When imitated or when professional designers appropriate vernacular signage, it is recognizable because graphic design typographic and layout rules are largely ignored. They focus on making a remarkable sign that can stand out when placed next to other signs in a busy street scene (Mars). The reason that these signs work is because they are designed for the area that houses them. Bold signs often fail to follow typographic nuances and complement the rest of the street. The absence of this form of design in transitional areas is apparent to the residents.


interview I asked a local design firm about their experiences working with developers in pre-gentrified areas. Grafik’s Creative Director Johnny Vitorovich works with developer companies such as EYA to determine the characteristics of visual identity and branding aspects when designing these areas. Designers Carrie Madigan and Efrat Levush work closely to align design techniques with the mission of these urban developers. Below is an interview I conducted with these three professionals. Our interview took place over a conference call, with follow-up responses sent through email.


Do you believe that composing signage depicting wealthy shoppers has the potential to alienate existing residents? J ohnny Vitorovich Long before there is a sign, there are meetings that we have with the client. With EYA, they met with Alexandria Housing Authority about five to six years before any construction takes place. Public housing projects that are dilapidated will redevelop. What is discussed in these meetings will inform how we and the client will all work to design and market the new development. Sometimes, this is an opportunity to reinvent low-income housing and redefine what public housing is through making sure every fourth home built will go back to public housing to reduce the amount of displacement among existing residents. C arrie Madigan There are general challenges with out-of-home design deliverables. The inherent challenges involved in designing for a very large-scale piece on a small computer screen require us to constantly print elements at full-size and tile them. While instinct might tell us that something is too “horsey”, we have to check ourselves by seeing it at full-size. When designing for a space, such as an EYA sales center, we have to think of how the various displays and messaging will layer, how

How do you think the existing visual language of neighborhood signage affects the design of signage temporarily promoting the new development?

to translate best-practices in design about differences in scale and information hierarchy to a 3-D space. As far as audience, when designing for EYA, we are designing for their sales target audience,

J ohnny Vitorovich We don’t take the visual language of the area’s existing surroundings into account

not for other community members who would be peripherally affected. The goal is to sell homes. The

unless it is in concert with the mood board of the project. We have taken architectural aspects, but

imagery is therefore aspirational (representing a lifestyle that is at or above the target audience’s).

we generally do not form the brand’s focus around the existing visual language when redeveloping an area. When creating mood boards for a concept, we abandon the existing vernacular if it is incon-

E frat Levush Imagery and messaging on signage for a for-profit real estate developer is always aspi-

gruent with the picture that we are painting. Referencing the feasibility study, we can decide if this

rational. A primary audience for the sales of the new homes is identified early on in the process and

area can support a more sophisticated design. After reviewing information like this, the product will

the design and messaging follows suit. The marketing materials, including the signage, communicate

take the most appropriate form.

an aspirational lifestyle the future residents of the development may have. E frat Levush The existing visual language of an area is considered at times when there’s a strong

 esigning signage has its own specific D challenges. Type size and hierarchy of information matters greatly and the imagery chosen needs to be compelling and legible from a distance. How do you gather and use research information during the creative process for construction development companies? J ohnny Vitorovich We conduct feasibility studies that influence who we are aiming to reach. This research also includes a competitive analysis of other properties nearby. We use this, as well as socioeconomic characteristics that also inform the price of the home to determine what kind of visuals will work. With stock photos, there is plenty of opportunity to diversify. C arrie Madigan Designers are provided with some degree of strategy research before starting the design process. We have a strategy team that does competitive analyses, handles focus groups, and

visual identity already in place to the surrounding neighborhood. There is a balance to strike however and we make strategic design choices to make sure the new development stands out in the visual landscape. We typically want to introduce the development as something fresh, new and exciting to the area. C arrie Madigan The only aspect of vernacular signage we take into account when designing for a new neighborhood is if it has a flavor or personality that we want to incorporate into the place branding. For example, if there is a lot of Art Deco signage in a neighborhood, we may use Art Deco elements in the branding to celebrate the neighborhood and fold the new development into the neighborhood when marketing.

Typography in construction site banners promoting new developments can be playful and experimental, or informational and direct. What steps does your design process include to ensure the proper message is communicated?

the like. Designers and creative directors do a formal or informal design audit at the beginning of

J ohnny Vitorovich Branding is one of the last steps we take. We place brand, which gives the project

each project, gathering collateral and other marketing materials in order to determine how to best

a sense of place in the market. Ironically, signage is the first thing that the public sees even though it

leverage our client. That strategy is then translated into appropriate imagery, color scheme, and

is the last thing that we actually develop. Through mood boarding, we come up with how the neigh-

format. We work with copy writers on messaging, and determine with them how to most effectively

borhood should feel with our target audience in mind, and this is how we can effectively market to

work it into the piece to tell the appropriate story.

the desired residents. Carrie Madigan The personality of the typography depends on the personality of the brand, which has been determined by our strategists. The typography should be consistent with the brand (whether that is sophisticated, playful, or experimental) and convey the brand attributes, but also needs to convey information (sometimes a great deal). The purpose of the piece determines whether the typography is primarily strategic messaging (conveying the brand personality) or informational (such as a website, phone number, etc.). Usually, it’s a combination of the two so the banners serve a dual purpose. However, ultimately, the purpose is to interest potential buyers and direct traffic to the new development. Regardless of the messaging, the piece must include a call-to-action.


sources “Bozzuto.” The Bozzuto Group. Web. 12 October. 2013. Chase, John “Unvernacular Vernacular” Design Quarterly 131 Minnesota: Walker Art Center 1986. Print. “Douglas Development.” Douglas Development. Web. 12 October. 2013. “Grunley.” Home. Web. 18 Nov. 2013. Jacobs, Jane. The Death and Life of Great American Cities. New York: Random House, 1961. Print. Jackson, Elizabeth “Main Street Makeover” Talking Spaces: The Environmental Graphic Design Issue New York: AIGA 1997. Print. Jackson, J.B. “Urban Circumstances” Design Quarterly 128 Minnesota: Walker Art Center: 1985. Print. Kalman, Tibor “Tibor on Vernacular Design” LAB Magazine 2013 Web Keedy, Jeffery “I like the Vernacular...Not” Lift and Separate, New York: Cooper U  nion for the Advancement of Science and Art Princeeton Architectural Press, 1993. Print. Krivanek, BJ “Get Real: Environmental Design in the Age of Simulation” Talking Spaces: The Environmental Graphic Design Issue New York: AIGA. 1997. Ley, David. The New Middle Class and the Remaking of the Central City. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1996. Print. Lupton, Ellen “Low and High: Design in Everyday Life” Looking Closer: Critical Writings on Graphic Design New York: Allworth Press 1994. Print. Lupton, Ellen “Sheila Levrant de Bretteville” Eye, No. 8 Vol. 2 1993: 10-16. Print. Mars, Roman “Episode 74: Hand Painted Signs” 99 Percent Invisible 2013. Web.


Photography: Lauren Russell Graphic Design Senior Thesis Instructors: Antonio Alcalรก, Alice Powers Corcoran College of Art + Design, May 2014

Visual Divide 01  

Visual Divide by lauren russell investigates the graphic design of gentrification. This volume focuses on washington, dc, a rapidly developi...

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