You Are Here:
Navigating a City’s Narrative

Alex Thompson

You Are Here is a project that examines the materiality and content of current urban wayfinding systems. The main goal is to integrate orientation cues into the urban environment by harnessing the city's own historical narrative and ever-changing infrastructure. A navigation system that creates a consistent sense of place within the city will increase user confidence, reduce reliance on mobile devices for navigation, and improve the user's relationship with their environment overall.

By exploring the history of traditional signage and reimagining ways of embedding signifiers into the city environment, this project aims to be a cross-disciplinary future of design thinking that brings the “usability” and “imageability” of a city to the forefront of the conversation. If the information conveyed by signage is what makes a city usable by its people, why not let the city infrastructure tell you that information itself? Why not combine the communication aspects of graphic design with the material and production knowledge of industrial design to do so?

When talking about pedestrian travel in New York City, the subway system is the most prevalent topic, and it is also the least addressed component of the signage & navigation system currently at play. There's an undeniable disconnect between the underground movements of New York with that of the streets above, and the level of disorientation experienced by even the most primed New Yorker is something we've all complained about at one time or another. *getting off a subway car* *being certain that the exit you're taking will get you to the west-side corner, closest to your end destination* *emerging above ground only to realize you just walked for 15 minutes in the complete wrong direction* *pulling out your phone to reorient, and feeling frustrated because you thought you knew your city better than that.* New York’s underground poses a problem that global positioning systems have yet to crack; leaving it an opportunity area for exploring more analog solutions that focus on the efficiency of our cities themselves instead of on the quality of our digital applications.

8 landmarks were selected to do a study of iconographic abstraction. Once one icon was decided upon to represent each location, this graphic was then explored as varying pattern applications. The final result is a set of redesigned infrastructure elements (underground subway railings and entry/exit fencing, as well as above ground sidewalk grates.) These objects act as integrated orientation information that relates back to an explanatory city map, and gives the user directional reinforcement for more efficient decision making.

A system of storytelling is suggested by creating a link between subway station art installations and street-level manhole cover redesigns. By adding moments of New York City history in the form of artistic expression to the plethora of manhole covers in the city, a sort of “treasure hunt” is produced that aims at adding significance to mundane objects and sparking a new form of “democratized tourism.” (A form of tourism that is inclusive of the city in its entirety - not just the hot spot attractions.)

There are many pre-existing installations that can be reimagined in order to lessen the disconnect between above and below ground, as well as new collaborations with non-profits and cultural centers are imagined for future system growth (new subway installations corresponding to new manhole cover designs).



Alex Thompson is a creative from Southwest, VA who strives for a cross-disciplinary design approach that blurs the lines between current creative professions. With an undergraduate degree in Design Communication, a background in fine arts, and work experience ranging from photography and prop styling, to brand strategy and fabrication - she hopes to continue pushing boundaries and exploring how 2D and 3D design can work in tandem.

︎    alexkora.com
︎    @alexkora


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