April 14, 2012


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The City of Austin’s wayfinding system: It’s coming and it’s not pretty . . . yet.

It has been brought to my attention recently that the City of Austin has hired a firm out of Pennsylvania to design a wayfinding system for the city. I was curious so I decided to take a look at the proposed designs.

Well, it’s not good. In fact, it’s startlingly mediocre. And I’m bothered by the fact that I’ll have to look at this for the rest of my life in this city if it doesn’t change. Aside from the occasional satirical rant, my intent of this blog has always been to celebrate work out there that I respect and admire and not throw rocks at the rest.

But, in this case, it’s worth speaking up. The city has asked for us to do so. I’m doing it. I think you should to—even if you disagree with me.

Below is an email that I sent to the city sharing my concerns about the proposed designs. You can find the three submitted design options posted here.

The two contacts to whom you can give feedback are:

Christine Freundi and Tonya Swartzendruber

If this is important to you, speak up. It’s your city. It’s your money.

—  —  —

Christine & Tonya,

I am writing you today as I have learned about the current efforts to design a wayfinding system for the city of Austin and that you are currently soliciting feedback from the local community. After reviewing the 3 design directions, I have some concerns that I would like to express.

Before I review my concerns, I’d like to give two qualifiers to my email:

1 I am a design professional with almost 20 years experience and a resident of Austin since 1996.

2 I realize that judging creative solutions without the context of being in the planning meetings or having the ability to interact with those people creating the work is an imperfect evaluation.

— — — — — — — — — — — — — —

Austin is a unique city. It has grown and changed a tremendous amount since I arrived here just out of college. Our skyline is massively different than a mere 15 years ago. Our visibility has increased to a point where(to outsiders) the city has an identity independent of our state identity.

Our local culture is influenced by wide variety of entities: the university, the state government, the local government, the music scene, the design community, the startup community, the tech community and so much more. It’s the sum of all these parts that influences what makes this such an interesting and prosperous place to be.

Our new wayfinding system will have a large impact on the visual fabric of our city—a city that is and will continue to be constantly changing. What I see in the three visual executions presented aren’t solutions that seamlessly integrate with our environment. I see executions that look like they are trying to theme our environment.

Austin is not a theme park. It is not a music city. It is not a green city. It is not a tech city. Yes, those three things are part of our makeup, but this city is much, much more. What I see presented are solutions that will—at best—look dated in a very short time and—at worst—draw more attention to themselves as artifacts instead of doing what they should be meant to do: act as tools for navigation and seamlessly enhance the experience of being in Austin.

There is an accomplished and vibrant design community here—one that lives and breathes the Austin experience each and every day. I encourage you to reach out to this community and involve them in this process moving forward.

Please let me know if I can help in any way.


Matt Fangman

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