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A G who Believed Itself to be a Fish

I was recently in Atlanta, the city that first knew me when I moved to the U.S.. Upon arrival I was informed about the newest addition to the city, the Georgia Aquarium that opened on Pemberton Place (named in honor of the Atlanta pharmacist, John S. Pemberton, who invented Coca-Cola). This is supposed to be the largest aquarium in the world (as of today), with more than 8 million gallons of marine and fresh water, and more than 100,000 animals of 500 different species. We decided to go as early as possible on a Friday to avoid the weekend rush.

Before I proceed with my review I will give you a little background history for context. Pemberton Place will occupy a total of 20 acres, located across from Centennial Olympic Park and within walking distance from Philips Arena, CNN Center and The Children’s Museum of Atlanta. Prime location, if ever there was one. Within it, the new World of Coca-Cola slated to open during the summer of 2007 (on their 121st anniversary) is currently under construction. The aquarium is a 20 million dollar gift to the city by Bernie Marcus, co-founder of The Home Depot, and his wife Billi, through the Marcus Foundation—to whom The Coca-Cola Company donated nine acres for the building. As you can imagine, as each animal arrived, the city was glued to the news cast getting to know them and waiting for the chance to meet them, as in the case of Casper the sick beluga that was rescued from a pool near the house I grew up in, in Mexico City.


The World of Coke viewing wall and construction (July 2006).

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And now, for the Aquarium, a few images to get us started. For the most part I will show you lots of images, with short commentaries here and there—I want to recreate the experience for you, so that you can express your opinions and draw your conclusions.


The parking side of the building, which is pretty much the same all around.



The walk from the parking lot to the main entrance.


Another sign along the way.


Once inside, this is one of the main attractions.

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The logo, as stated in the Atlanta Business Chronicle, “resembles a tail of an aquatic animal attached to a bright letter ‘G’”, was developed by Grey Worldwide Atlanta. It conveys the spirit of “fun” that guests will experience—in the words of Bernie Marcus, “we were looking for something very simple, with an identity that speaks to the name of the Georgia Aquarium, and also encapsulates the 55,000 animals that will soon call the Aquarium home.”

As I moved from the parking lot, to the main entrance, the building itself and finally the gift store I could not help but notice the assorted styles and uses of the logo and the typography:


The main entrance sign.


The logo, as shown on doors and posts.


Assorted items at the gift shop. Outlines, no outlines. Typefaces? we are open to suggestions (or so it seems).

Am I the only one that is bothered by the different treatments of Georgia Aquarium? Did the architects not talk to the designers, and the designers to the designers?

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When you enter the aquarium, you find yourself in one central room. From there you can select which of the 5 areas to explore, and in which order. While I like what they did with the lettering and tanks for each one of the shows, I am not so sure about the colored lights.


Main room.


Two shows, and the exit.

The way the tanks are placed, and the interaction that is achieved between viewer and “species” is beautiful.


Kids find crawling tunnels that place them in the middle of the action.


Are we that different?.


From the simple, to the cumbersome.

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At intervals I felt like a little girl in this beautiful and exciting place, staring at the sharks and gasping at the sea horses. I also felt like a parent in some instances as I watched kids interact with the show and the screens devoted to them, as I looked at warning signs and emergency notices. I felt like a teenager testing the limits and, finally, as a senior citizen when I was done with the noise, the amount of people and the lack of seating. This got me to thinking if the signage was developed with these groups in mind, or by different groups within Gray Worldwide…Or maybe it is all a simple result of lack of communication.


Nicely integrated snippets that tell you them most interesting fact about that species.


Using the “rocks” from the show as a canvas, while introducing the different species or characters. Deepo, as you might have guessed, was named after Home Depot.


Touch screens are to be found in most rooms, but I can’t get over the typography usage—it sends shivers down my spine. (And yes, that error screen was on its side).


Oh, this interactive screen it completely different from all the others!


Upon close inspection, these boards are expensively made, durable, etc. Too bad they are hung above eye level, mostly on curved surfaces and loaded with glare spots. They feel like an afterthought.


These posters abound, both inside and outside of the aquarium with important information about shows, hours, the glass they use…


Wayfinding signage feels disjointed not only from the aquarium and the “fun” aspect of it, but within itself by using different styles and typefaces..


I guess it is OK to go generic for these…

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From the main room it also possible to reach the cafeteria, which was a great dissapointment for me. Granted, I am not one for “museum food”, but they missed an opportunity to be truly innovative and creative. As it is, you could place it anywhere in the world and it would blend right in. Better at least, than the logo with the rest of the aquarium’s so-called identity.


Logo, as featured on the outside of the aquarium. Signage within the cafe.


The view as you enter the purchasing area.


The seating area, with views to the main room and all the action.


Column detail.

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As with any institution of this kind and magnitude, the space would not be complete without the sponsors and benefactors. Divided in two main sections:


The big shots. Lots a money, equals a big fish.


The individuals who wanted to participate and believed in the project. A spiraling wall made of plexi glass with each name etched within a tiny logo-shaped fish, with the logo screened behind it. Subtle changes in lighting keep the wall in motion.

Now, I want to believe that the two fire alarms placed within the wall, surrounded by names, could have been avoided. Columns on the other side of the path, or even the ceiling would have been better options…


How to seam two pieces of plexi together, without cutting the names in two?

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After a couple of hours we headed back to the parking lot. This time around I was ready for it, since I had noticed a few horrors on my way in.


Each parking floor is represented by one of these funny fellas. Too bad the only signs with their picture is right next to the elevator (and nothing near my car or thoughout that floor).


Oh, right… The wayfinding style should be used here as well.


I can’t even begin to imagine the pain those letters in number three felt as they were squished to fit. Thankfully, this is the only place where they are used or the letters could have sued the designers.

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Now that I am reviewing the images, and recalling the experience I notice that my feelings have not changed. This is a beautiful project, one that is successful for kids and adults, across cultures and preferences. It is not for designers. It is torture for designers, unless they only look at what lies behind the glass. The amount of typefaces, of styles, of voices that are meant to speak to the guests is confusing and distracting. It is hard to learn what communicates what kind of information, it feels disjointed and sometimes careless. Did they run out of steam? Did they run out of money? Resources? Interns? Was the problem based on the amount of people involved? Or the lack of one key overlooker in charge of consistency?

And well, the logo itself leaves much to be desired, as much as the outside of the building – it could easily house a Costco instead as seen from the outside. And so could the logo be equally interchangeable, it could be used by the local pet store. But it shouldn’t. They don’t deserve such mediocre representation.

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Say bye-bye Deepo!

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ENTRY DETAILS
ARCHIVE ID 2743 FILED UNDER Critique
PUBLISHED ON Jul.18.2006 BY bryony
WITH COMMENTS
Comments
Armin’s comment is:

The different type treatments for Georgia Aquarium on the logo and the big-ass signage that welcomes visitors and acts as billboard is unapologetically sloppy and careless. I don't understand why, if the big expense was made to get the letters done, it wasn't done with the right typeface. But at the end of the day, I wonder if anyone will notice.

On the other hand, I find the overall wayfinding system lacking some wayfinding-feng shui. I doubt anyone will get lost or pee their pants because they couldn't relate the bathroom pointing to the signage to the overall look of the museum. But I do feel that some considered harmony in wayfinding signage goes a long way in helping people feel more comfortable in an environment they have never been in. Even if it's not pretty, consistency of visual cues goes a long way.

> Each parking floor is represented by one of these funny fellas. Too bad the only signs with their picture is right next to the elevator (and nothing near my car or thoughout that floor).

In Chicago, the parking garage for Millenium Park is big. Huge. Each section of each floor is tagged with an icon and the icon is plastered everywhere... By the time you get to the elevator you have to be pretty aloof to not remember your icon. So it can be done.

Also, when identity systems like the Walker Art Center's (that span from signage to business cards) are developed it is even harder to comprehend why a big aquarium with a budget to match can't perform on a similar level – of consistency at least.

On Jul.18.2006 at 08:32 AM
Dave Werner’s comment is:

Design flaws aside, I love the imagination and atmosphere of this place...people were cheering for the fish the last time we went.

On Jul.18.2006 at 10:00 AM
DC1974’s comment is:

I wonder, what affect this will have on tourism in the rest of the South. Up the road from Atlanta, the Tennessee Aquarium sits in beautiful downtown Chattanooga. Once the world's only freshwater aquarium (they've since added salt water too), it's a beautiful addition to the skyline and a nice package of design and advertising. Not at all the Disney land of fish that this Atlanta Aquarium seems to be. It was also built with Coca-Cola money (it was a Chattanoogan that convinced Pemberton to bottle his soft drink -- and so the bottling fortune has all mostly been invested in the Chattanooga area.)
Up the road from Chattanooga is the Aquarium of the Smokies -- which employs many of the elements that seem to be in use in Atlanta. It was built by Ripley's (of Believe or Not fame) in Gaitlenburg. So the tacky over the top feel is in keeping with both the Ripley's identity and the feel of Gaitlenburg. It's a tourist trap as gateway to the smokies.
In Gaitlenburg and Atlanta, though, the scale is wrong. The scale is that of not a walking culture, but a car based culture. Of moving quickly and having to shout. That's a shame. And a general issue with the embiggening of America. Architects need to start appreciating a streetscape scale again, or we as American's do. I'm not sure what drives the other here.

On Jul.18.2006 at 10:31 AM
r agrayspace’s comment is:

Thanks for the awesome and painful presentation. I love aquariums and can't wait to make the trek from Raleigh to see it.

One thing at the end struck me as particularly interesting. That the experience is "torture for designers".

Which sparks the question… that sure a little consistency of voice and style would do everyone a little better, but are designers the only ones who care? How does the level of care and consistency that good designers strive for really impact the experience of regular peeps? And does it really make sense for us to try so hard to provide a thing that would largely go unnoticed by anyone but designers? Are we just talking to ourselves?

On Jul.18.2006 at 10:39 AM
Von K’s comment is:

One thing I notice is the mixture of different symbols. They are all treated in different ways, but still all familiar to most people.

The "men's" and "women's" bathroom icons, the stroller-parking sign, even the huge, stenciled parking garage letters. They are all messages that we recieve often. That they aren't part of a consistant system doesn't stop the message from getting through, though.

"Are we just talking to ourselves?"

I don't think so. Even though the Atlanta Aquarium information is digestable, it isn't contributing to the environment. All those disjointed messages are getting across, but that disjointedness is fighting the unity that would otherwise build a cohesive and individual "Atlanta Aquarium-ness."

I don't think most people recognize that unity in terms of typefaces, color or any of the other elements and processes that go into its creation. They recognize it as ease-of-use — when they rely on that unity to find the information they are looking for.

On Jul.18.2006 at 11:45 AM
marian bantjes’s comment is:

But at the end of the day, I wonder if anyone will notice.

This is such a sad, but very real question. I've honestly never seen such a botched job of identity and signage. It looks like it was farmed out to 10 different amateurs, and like Bryony, I find it very, very painful to look at. But as much as I like to use the metaphor of tailoring ... that good design and typography is like a well tailored suit—that you may not notice the details, but you still get an impression of quality without knowing why ... still I wonder if that is true, and really if good design and the attention to craft makes any difference at all.

This is incredibly depressing.

On Jul.18.2006 at 12:20 PM
Ryan Cuthriell’s comment is:

I agree with all above. This is depressing to look at. There doesn't seem to be a consistent face to the Georgia Aquarium brand at all. Unfortunately most American's won't notice. Most of America seems to be happy and satisfied with the Wal-Mart aesthetic. (It's the Wal-Mart vs. Target battle again) If this is their benchmark, I'm sure this colorful aquarium is just amazing to see.

The average viewer to see this aquarium (non-designer) has no idea what the foundations of design are. Let's review them: balance, propotion, rhythm, emphasis, and unity.

It is our job as designers to know these and enforce them onto our projects, teaching the "general public" how to recognize what is and isn't good design.

On Jul.18.2006 at 12:52 PM
Armin’s comment is:

If, say, you were watching a movie, would you enjoy a scene in which the lighting changes between takes, the camera angles are never the same twice (but they are supposed to be), the main character is smoking a cigar that intermittently grows and gets shorter and grows again, etc? Sure, you'll still get the plot of the movie, but the experience is not as enjoyable, consistent or satisfying as it very well could be.

On Jul.18.2006 at 01:37 PM
Pesky Illustrator’s comment is:

Having recently moved to Atlanta from New Orleans, I have yet to see any of the touristy things like the Aquarium. But everytime I see that G-tailed logo I get a headache. I just dislike that thing - and for no other reason that it's neither fish nor typography.

On Jul.18.2006 at 01:42 PM
Joosse’s comment is:

That parking garage lettering used to be found at the National Aquarium in Baltimore. I remember thinking the last time I was there that it must've been brought to us by Big Dogs.

I have to believe that even non-designers and those over the age of, let's say, 12, appreciate design standards on some deep subconscious level. Isn't that why we brand huge corporations? Create standards manuals? Coordinate furniture to room colors? Even if you can't notice it obviously, don't things like that calm/excite/enrage/engage the non-designer?

It still sucks to see that once you've stopped appreciating the outer shell of something and enter its innards, all bets are usually off.

On Jul.18.2006 at 02:41 PM
Mr. Frankie L’s comment is:

I saw this tv special about production
inconsistencies found in movies, that only the
production people notice but rarely the regular
audience members.

Differences like micro-aesthetics of sans-serif
type are not things "regular" folks are going
to get, because they aren't looking for it.

On Jul.18.2006 at 03:15 PM
Mr. Frankie L’s comment is:

The fishy logo isn't that bad is it?
I'm not sure if the "G" has arrived at
its best form though...

On Jul.18.2006 at 03:19 PM
Ryan Cuthriell’s comment is:

I would like to think everyone appreciates design, but I don't think that's realistic. I think people appreciate things from what they are given or from what they know. People have Coke or Pepsi loyalty – buy this I mean they choose from selected options. If they are given inadequate substance to put value in, they will choose it. I guarantee there are people in ATL with the G sticker on their car. Not because they think its a great design, but because they liked the aquarium.

On Jul.18.2006 at 04:23 PM
Bryony’s comment is:

Unfortunately most American's won't notice. Most of America seems to be happy and satisfied with the Wal-Mart aesthetic.

I find this statement incredibly sad. Not for the “Americans”, but for you as a designer. If you think your audience does not care at all, why design then? Why not find something else that you feel can make a difference to your chosen audience? I believe every well-branded company out there has been successful (in part) due to its un-Wal-Martness. Are your personal standards that low? Are you willing to give Wall-Martness to everyone out there?

+++

As far as the experience as a designer goes, within the Aquarium, it was a bipolar adventure. On the one side I was amazed at what they had done with the shows, and the tanks. On the other it was the realization, beyond typographic selection, that communication can truly be distressing. I visited the aquarium with another designer, and a chef. Funny thing was, mid way through our visit the chef was pointing out stuff faster than I could spot them with my camera. It took three “will you look at that?” instances for him to gasp in unison.

+++
The fishy logo isn't that bad is it? Care to elaborate?

On Jul.18.2006 at 05:58 PM
Sheepstealer’s comment is:

Helvetica
Futura Condensed
Bank Gothic
Friz Quadrata (I think)
Arial Black
Gil Sans (mixed with Helvetica)
Papyrus (please tell me I’m wrong on that one)
Lithos Bold
More Gil Sans
Helvetica Black (mixed with Futura Condensed)
Avante Garde
That weird stencil “Big Dog” font

Does this matter to more than designers?

ABSOLUTELY.

I’ve seen an exercise where some prominent logotypes like Sony, Pepsi, Porsche, and Apple. had their letters scrambled. Crowds were still able to IMMEDIATELY recognize who the type belonged to. Why? Because the style of typography speaks to the reader even before they read it.

The complete mish-mash of typography at this aquarium delivers a message to all visitors: “We don't know we are.”

Consistent and deliberate use of typography is not luxury. What if each of these signs were, instead of a sign, a tourguide personality. It would be like taking a tour of a museum and switching tourguides mid-stream. Hi I’m Morgan Freeman and I'll be passing you to your next tourguide, Gilbert Gottfreid. He'll be passing you on to TV‘s Doogie Houser, Niel Patrick Harris. Taking tour like this may be amusing, or memorable, but would it feel right?

Good type feels right. And if your audience doesn’t get right, they get wrong.

On Jul.18.2006 at 06:05 PM
Joosse’s comment is:

Aquariums are some of the few places on earth that inspire wonder from people. And by "people," I can only mean "me." Shit, these are buildings that house the very best three-quarters of the planet! And they all get to swim around in neat subdued bluish light!

So I've chosen to retain a sense of wonder when I go into an aquarium, as does, I hope, everyone else who goes, and I want to see this translated into everything inside. Seeing a shark tank with Lithos or [sigh] Papyrus on its signage completely takes that away. I can easily find that stuff all over; why shouldn't I find some good type that complements that joy and awe, instead of type that tries to speak to a base reaction from a non-designer? By which I mean "wavy Gill sans = the idea of swimming through the ocean = all fish everywhere." The designers here didn't respect the common visitor enough to speak to the extraordinary because they went right for the ordinary.

I'd rather see the aquarium type be the function—clean, beautiful, unobtrusive—and let the aquarium creatures be the form.

On Jul.18.2006 at 06:45 PM
r agrayspace’s comment is:

To Armin's point about the movie…

The thing is (and this maybe an assumption) that generally people would notice and care about inconsistencies in a films narrative but not be bothered about it in an aquarium experience. This bothers me to no end but I just feel like that is the truth and to say that they wouldn't is overly optimistic. In fact if they see something set in Sand, and then Papyrus, and then Arial and myriad of sizes, they wouldn't care and would probably enjoy seeing all those neat fonts they use in there Powerpoints at work! Neat look its HOBO!

Bryony, did the Chef start noticing all that stuff because of their interaction with you, a designer, at the Aquarium? I wonder if they would have had the same reaction without your company.

Don't get me wrong, I overwhelming see the value in and would prefer a wonderfully thought out and consistent voice in my user experience at the aquarium, but I wonder if we are being overly insular to think it really matters to the user.

The aquarium has what most will recognize as a logo, even one cute enough to have on a t-shirt. They won't see it as having marginal craft and sophistication. So what are we to do? Just keep complaining to ourselves about how bad some stuff is?

Maybe it is our job to educate people by practicing strong principled design, and over time they will be able to tell the difference between a strong brand and a mish mash. Maybe.

I would concede that people notice a strong brand voice and even understand that it is what is "Best". But I question whether they would notice marginal to bad brand execution. Did they notice at the aquarium? Will they not recommend it to their friends?

On Jul.18.2006 at 07:09 PM
Mr.Frankie L’s comment is:

The fishy logo isn't that bad is it? Care to elaborate?

Modifiying the "G" from Georgia Aquarium and
making it into an icon, doesn't seem like a bad
idea -- it's simple, mnemonic, and appropriate
to the subject matter(Aquarium). The semi-abstract
nature of the aquatic + "G" combo doesn't limit
itself to any particular animal, which is good.

I'm not entirely comfortable with the final form,
but it seems more clever than drawing a fish
outline with a "G" as an eye...They also could have
gone for an illustrative mark, ala Michael
Schwab-esqe, but maybe that would look too safe
of an approach.

I think the mark could have been a lot worse,
like Microsoft clip-art bad -- no photoshop
filters on this one.

On Jul.18.2006 at 08:36 PM
j agrayspace’s comment is:

I heed the above warnings not to snobbishly speak to ourselves through our visual language. And I will add that we should be wary of consistency and cohesiveness as leading us down a bland and institutional path (something an aquarium should not be).

But I argue, how about good design is a good education? The more we provide smart, cohesive design to the public, the more it will be understood and appreciated. Much like Marian's spot-on metaphor of tailoring, the more we wear quality clothes the more we can tell the difference.

Although some people may not appear to care about well-considered design (though I think many do) -- I argue that they still deserve it. As Paul Rand says "Good Design is Goodwill".

All this is summarized eloquently in a part of AIGA's new mission that states, to increase the influence of design is to improve the human experience.

On Jul.18.2006 at 10:22 PM
Ellis’s comment is:

I grew up in Atlanta and I recognized the new aquarium logo right away. It possibly derives from a mark that your average Atlanta resident sees hundreds of times a day as they drive around town: The University of Georgia Logo. It's on the rear bumper of at least 25% of the cars on the road. While not exactly in line with the fish theme, the similarity is there. Was it conscious on the part of Grey Worldwide? Probably not. Maybe it just snuck into the design process since the designers saw it so often.


On Jul.18.2006 at 11:19 PM
mark notermann’s comment is:

I like Arimn's film consistency metaphor. The key to a successful film experience (for me) is the suspension of disbelief. I forget I'm watching the film, and begin to live inside it. When something disrupts that, it's over.

On a another track, I know there's quantative data about how audio noise increases one's stress level. I can only imagine that visual noise does the same. Good environmental design lets you imagine that there is a plan to all the madness, and you don't have to worry about getting lost, as opposed to following the Papyrus or Gill Sans like typographic breadcrumbs!

Any of these kind of public/retail spaces should be designed to increase the length of visit. It usually means more dollars stay at the destination.

(Gee, maybe they WANT people to get lost!)

On Jul.19.2006 at 01:59 AM
Bryony’s comment is:

Bryony, did the Chef start noticing all that stuff because of their interaction with you, a designer, at the Aquarium? I wonder if they would have had the same reaction without your company.

Without giving him a design lecture, and really without explanation he got it. Basically he saw me taking pictures of non-fish items and he wondered. The first time I believe I said “Well, this poster is out of reach for most viewers, it has a big glare on it and it is placed on a curved surface which makes me think: afterthought”. The second time something in line with “do they not care?” regarding an obscure vinyl-lettering sign placed in a not very obvious place.

I do believe I did influence his experience, but I don’t think he would have been completely unaware of the situation either.

+++

Jamie, indeed everyone deserves good design. No matter what. Who. Where. Or how Educated (as we designers like to think of our clients/audience).

On Jul.19.2006 at 07:34 AM
Armin’s comment is:

> The fishy logo isn't that bad is it?

I agree. It's not that bad. As Frankie said, the logo evokes the idea of fish without specifying shark, ray, goldfish or seahorse. This is one of those ideas that could be executed a bunch of different ways and they almost got it right, but it has a clunkiness that you don't think of when you think of fish floating in water.

On Jul.19.2006 at 08:20 AM
Jess’s comment is:

I've always thought that museums, zoos, aquariums, et al should minimize extraneous decoration. The Deepo signage is especially distracting and is such an obvious reference to Pixar's Finding Nemo that is seems like a copyright infringement case in the making. Or is it just an extension of that film?

I find that insulting to children. I remember as a child being repulsed by overly bright colors and reducing everything educational into a wacky-daffy cartoon. Illustration and animation have a place...that place is not a museum. The real motion and energy, in this case, should be reserved for the critters. Tasteful plaques describing the fish and such? Sure.

We have a children's museum here in Indy that used to be quite the thrill. Many of the displays were somber. Antique toys displayed in no-nonsense glass cases. Rooms upon rooms of interactive equipment that simply sat there without crazy signage and characters to guide the kids along. I remember some of the displays bordered on scary. I always recall a disembodied train in a dark room with ambient noise floating in mysteriously from hidden speakers. Of course, the part that always scared me the most was the indoor merry-go-round. Yes, noise pollution and flashing lights are stressful, especially for the sensitive types.

Poor fish. Being upstaged by warring fonts and CG silliness. I was especially offended by the poorly-placed fire alarms. How tacky and ugly.

Still, I don't think the average visitor has a choice in the matter, does he? Blame the designers who allowed it to come into being. As many have said, the visitor didn't design the thing and must deal with what he has. I think people would have responded to a minimalist and elegant approach. Was there ever a choice? Did the designers and architechts allow the masses to tour "test" sections of the aquarium to see if they prefered the loud signage over the subtle? I doubt it.

Although, I don't know...most of my family loves Wal-mart and I feel soiled just stepping in one. I'll pay a bit more for products if it means spiffy packaging and clean aisles. Cheap can be well designed and good. It boosts confidence and gives the impression of caring. Shouldn't the lesser strive to emulate the "superior"? It's odd to see bland vinyl-lettered signs. That's a detail that slipped by them, I wager and it doesn't ruin the aquarium, does it? It simply disappoints.

Though I have to admit that most public signage is garbage. There's nothing better than wandering into some new space and being able to find everything easily.

On Jul.19.2006 at 09:32 AM
Ryan Cuthriell’s comment is:

>To Bryony's comment...

You misunderstood me. I love design and I think people do value it. Look at well branded & successful marketed companies like Nike, Lexus, & Starbucks. There is a clear purpose for designers and our profession as a whole. I strive as a designer to make a difference in my field and to invoke (postitive) change in my audience. I design to improve the social scene surrounding me and no, I'm not satisfied with the Wal-Martness style of design — In fact I despise it.

However, regardless of how successful an identity is, people remember the experience. Starbucks is all about the experience. Not many people know what their logo is. I honestly didn't until I researched it on your thedesignencyclopedia.org. I would imagine that when most people enter, tour, then leave the Georgia Aquarium, they will not think about the differences in typography and size relationships in the identity(among other identity problems). They will remember the experience they had there. And the giant fish! That was my point.

For you to challenge me as a designer is preposterous. My standards are anything but low. Me describing what I think the average viewer of the aquarium sees (or doesn't see) has absolutely nothing to do with my personal perspective on design. Maybe you should write and challenge the "designers" of this Georgia Aquarium for the work they did. I've yet to do something this inconsistent and I'm not striving to mimic it.

On Jul.19.2006 at 10:18 AM
Josh B’s comment is:

I admit to not reading every single comment above, so some of this may be redundant. But I thought, as an "environmental graphic designer", I'd offer my own experience with such projects, as limited as it is.

I haven't worked on anything as grand as this aquarium, but am currently working on a large museum space. That project involves several designers: the architect of course; an exhibit designer; a graphic designer for the museum's identity; and us, as the designers of signage. Beyond that, no one has been contracted to design any donor recognition yet, so who knows who that'll be.

So maybe that sheds some light on why everything is so disjointed and inconsistent. Different signs are usually made by different groups, without a lot of coordination going on, especially when time is limited.

It also wouldn't surprise me if the parking garage signage was done by still another team. And all the interperative signage done by an in-house team. With no one team in charge, there's no one saying, "Hey, all signs and collateral should use Trade Gothic" or whatever. Usually the team in charge is the architect, and well, architects are not always the best facilitators of consistent or beautiful signage. And let's face it, there are a lot of "successful" designers and design firms out there that give very little thought to consistency. I've met too many who think every new thing needs to look different than the one before it, "'cause hey, otherwise it's just boring, right?" Agh.

I'd be happy to explain the process of signing a building/environment like this if anyone cares to read it. I can't promise it'll be an exciting read, but hopefully it'll be informative.

On Jul.19.2006 at 11:04 AM
bryony’s comment is:

Maybe you should write and challenge the "designers" of this Georgia Aquarium for the work they did.
I did. No response.

You misunderstood me.
I am glad I misunderstood you. That makes me happy. Elated. They way your words were structured lead in the wrong direction, and I apologize. But I think that bundling the American public the way you did, categorizing them as nothing beyond Wal-Mart was depressing — it is coming from somewhere within you that I can’t explain. Nor do I wish to explore.

I, as well as Josh, assume that each sign group was created and developed by a different group of people. But this should be no excuse, no reason for the lack of cohesiveness. Be it well designed, or horribly done the bridge should exist group to group and a vision should be established and maintained. But we are going in circles again, things can be as detailed and important as the Guggenheim Museum (where the architect indeed, made a difference).

On Jul.19.2006 at 01:17 PM
fatknuckle’s comment is:

Just because we understand how something like this happens it still doesn't excuse it.

It reinforces the fact that the first thing that needs to be done is the creation of a style guide.

Problem is when you as a designer (or firm) are pitching what usually is a pretty expensive internal project such as that, clients don't always see that as something ov value.

I'm definitely going to be using this as a case study in future pitches for sure....

On Jul.19.2006 at 02:07 PM
Pete A.’s comment is:

Not to rain on anyone's parade but when all is said and done, what I remember from visiting an aquarium is time with friends and the features and creatures....that's why I go. It's a given that the design groups involved should've pooled together and discussed type treatments before going forward...maybe they did...I'm sure you've all been part of collaborative projects that have gone all awry due to deadlines and last minute decisions from marketing depts. or higher-ups.

That being said, it's not going to ruin my day to see one fish description in Gill Sans and another in Helvetica or a display sign in Papyrus. As long as I don't have to read entire paragraphs set in a some wacky display font, I could care less. Don't take this that I don't care about design...I do. It's just that I don't really geek out about it, especially during time reserved for myself. I spend enough time during the week doing that. I'm thinking more about how I'm stuck in NYC and miss scuba diving. :p

I will say that I don't like the logo at all. What's up with the crappy spur?

On Jul.19.2006 at 04:36 PM
Tselentis’s comment is:

Not to rain on anyone's parade but when all is said and done, what I remember from visiting an aquarium is time with friends and the features and creatures....that's why I go.

You're not raining on anybody's parade, but between you and I, it's impossible to ignore these things. As a new parent, I'm bombarded by toys, diapers, and other cudly things, none of which 'match up' visually. I can't help but tear them apart for their laziness, the same way the above commentators have.

On Jul.19.2006 at 09:24 PM
Tan’s comment is:

Late to the discussion, but I think I may have some insight.

Aquariums and zoos are most often designed by firms that specialize in architectural and environmental designs for these types of public animal parks/facilities. One such group is the Portico Group, which has an office in Seattle.

Planning and designing a zoo or aquarium is a gargantuan effort that probably takes at least 5 years or more, involving private and public parties, specific construction codes and facility considerations for humans and animals, not to mention retail, entertainment technology, etc.

Grey was probably brought in at the last minute to create an identiy, after 95% of the retail and other architectural/environmental structures had been designed for build. Why do I think Grey came last? Because the name of the aquarium was probably last on the committee's list, and probably so was the budget for the ID development. That's usually the case.

So, it was probably Grey's fault that the ID did not match the rest of the signage, not the other way around. It's still a mess, don't get me wrong, but let's stone the right party here. As we critique these things, let's remember how the process usually works for our own projects. It's never ideal, rarely in sequence.

As to the ID on the merchandise — again, those were the last things produced, so of course they matched Grey's logo.

Lastly, the logo itself seems a bit obvious and pedestrian. A "G" shaped like a fish doesn't take a goddamn genius.

On Jul.19.2006 at 11:48 PM
Tan’s comment is:

>But this should be no excuse, no reason for the lack of cohesiveness. Be it well designed, or horribly done the bridge should exist group to group and a vision should be established and maintained.

You're right and wrong, B.

You're right that a vision should be established and maintained, when possible. Amen and with justice for all.

But you're wrong to not consider the circumstance of a build of this magnitude where multiple firms are involved, and where leadership of the vision doesn't necessarily correlate with budgetary or construction schedules, or multiple owners.

The Guggenheim and an aquarium is apples and oranges, so it's not a fair comparison. The Guggenheim is essentially a big house with one owner, one checkbook, and one need. Hell, it's essentially one big room. An aquarium is none of that.

And sorry, but when it comes to ID and signage of a project of this magnitude, consistency is not at all about whether or not an architect is ultimately at the driver's seat.

On Jul.20.2006 at 12:09 AM
Josh B’s comment is:

Just to clarify, by no means was my explanation of the signing process at the aquarium meant as an excuse. It was simply to offer up some context, and hopefully reveal some differences between the processes print designers and environmental designers go thru. I don't see a lot written or blogged about environmental graphic design, and I just wanted to offer more context for the uninitiated out there.

That said, yes, it can be done, and done well. Sadly, it didn't happen in what appears to be an otherwise brilliant place to check out some beasties.

I will say this too, again not as an excuse, but simply as context... often times the various teams of designers are not coordinated by the architect, but by the client. And often times that means a Board of Directors. Cue ominous music. So while the architect may be able to sell the Board on one vision, the Board lacks the understanding that said vision should be honored throughout. And when they start dividing up the work, in an effort to expedite the process, well, the work suffers.

Fatnuckle said he planned on using this as a case study on how not to do it... not a bad idea. You may actually end up saving the client from themselves.

On Jul.20.2006 at 12:20 AM
Greg Scraper’s comment is:

I live in the Land of Bad Theme Park Signage, so I totally understand where Bryony's coming from. I also have had the feeling of being screamed at from all directions, and looking at thses pictures makes me recall being in Disneyworld in the middle of July on a Saturday. You'd think that there would be some easy way to keep everything consistent. The trouble is that there's not. A couple things to think about (sorry if I'm repeating previously iterated sentiments):

a) Frequently, signage is created by a creative team (or teams) in advance of finalization of the space, and the board in charge of approval probably won't go for redesign before implementation. This is a fact that could be changed with good planning and a little foresight.

b) Unified signage is nice, but some exhibits require a different touch or theme. It's one thing to use whitney to identify fish in a standard aquarium, it's another to use whitney in the pirate-themed aquarium across the way. That said, a face that reiterates whitney's proportions a little wouldn't be out of the question.

c) Style guides are like handing someone a sword blade first. I freaking love them when I create them. I hate them when they're flopped into my lap. And, they can't possibly cover every contingent or possibility.

All that aside, bad planning and wishy-washy design go hand-in-hand when designing signage. My advice is to ignore and enjoy, and maybe submit ideas when you get too fed up.

On Jul.20.2006 at 04:17 PM
BruceS63’s comment is:

The signage can be changed, and I hope at some point it will be made more consistent. What really stinks is that the passageway between the sea lions and otters, on the way to the penguins, narrows considerably. That cannot be changed without some demolition work. This passageway forces people to scrunch together and wait unnecessarily while the crowd ahead inches forward. That said, the Atlanta Aquarium is a terrific thing to see. And I do agree that the logo could have been better.

On Jul.24.2006 at 01:55 PM
Beezie’s comment is:

I agree with Greg Scraper's Disneylandish characterization of the Aquarium's signage. I think the fish deserve a little more...respect, although I don't know of anything that can match the beauty of a flock of young rays slowly 'flying' through the water in the big tank.

I do think the Aquarium was smart to keep the fish-facts signage sparse. The two times I have been there the place was so mind-bogglingly crowded that having people stop and read would have seriously impeded the flow of traffic.

There are many displays where the Aquarium doesn't want visitors taking flash photos (alarms the critters, I guess), but the signage is so unobtrusive that nobody complies. Perhaps a please-no-flash-photography symbol could have been devised and introduced to visitors with explainatory signage in the fairly empty entrance area.

I too think the logo falls flat. It in no way suggests/reflects the wonderfulness of the creatures inside the Aquarium.

On Jul.26.2006 at 03:49 PM