Annapolis Maryland Looks To The Future And New Ways For Visitors To Experience The City – August 24th 2012

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On Thursday August 23rd a meeting was held in the City Council Chambers of Annapolis for the purpose of showing three proposed drafts of sign and marker designs schemes for a new Wayfinding project currently being undertaken here in the city. Afterwards there would be a discussion on these proposed designs so as to allow members of the business community as well as the public to comment on them. While the attendance at the meeting was a bit sparse, a dozen and half or so individuals, it did serve as an opportunity for business owners, as well as the general public, to learn more about what this project entails. Attendees included retailers, a bed and breakfast proprietor, a tour operator, members of the public, local historical and representatives of other local organizations as well as city government associates.

After some opening remarks and introductions by Sally Nash, senior planner with the City of Annapolis, the meeting began with Mr. John Boslo and Jessica Church of MERJEWest Chester Pennsylvania, sharing with members of the audience their concept of the various components of what a Wayfinding service is as well as a presentation of the proposed signage themes put together so far based on input from the project’s steering committee. One of Mr. Boslo’s first remarks during the meeting was that Wayfinding is “not a signage program but a marketing program.” Mr. Boslo went on to state that his company does not build the signs that they design and that part of any project is done by a fabrication company chosen by the client. In addition he stated that one of his firm’s main goals in working with any client is to identify the various components that can be used in putting together a visitor orientation, read, marketing program.


 Proposed Sign and Marker Design One

Picture of The MERJE Design Proposal 1 of Sign And Markers For The Annapolis Maryland Wayfinding Project August 23rd 2012

Click On This Picture To View A Full Size Version

As Mr. Boslo continued the presentation he took the audience through the various components of a Wayfinding service including such things such as pre-arrival features, the use of landmarks for visitor orientation as well as the role that signage plays in the greater goal for the project. By “getting people parked and on the street first” he said it then becomes the job of the signs and markers to guide a visitor through the city so that they can more easily locate destination points around their current location.

On the topic of signs Mr. Boslo said that in his experience the consistency of a design and symbol regime in the signs used throughout a city is a very important aspect of any successful program while at the same time the signs themselves should not contribute to the appearance of a cluttered sign environment, which is not an acceptable approach in assisting visitors navigate their way through the various districts of any given area. As he went on the talk turned to the concept of Gateways that they can be very instrumental in establishing a navigation standard or point of orientation that visitors can then use to make their way along the various routes within a city. Gateways are usually placed in parking garages, on transit services, in the case of Annapolis along the waterfront, bridges, parks as well as at other key locations throughout the districts being served by a Wayfinding system.


 Proposed Sign and Marker Design Two

Picture of The MERJE Design Proposal 2 of Sign And Markers For The Annapolis Maryland Wayfinding Project August 23rd 2012

Click On This Picture To View A Full Size Version

Mr. Boslo concluded the first part of the presentation by identifying the four major components of a typical Wayfinding master plan by using a graphical chart depicting four overlapping circles of functionality and operational design. At this point Jessica Church, of MERJE, began to show the three current proposed sign – marker design presentation boards, along with additional renderings of the pedestrian and parking schematics, that her firm has designed to date for the steering committee.

Near the top of this blog post is the first sign and marker design theme proposed by MERJE where this proposed signage scheme is more in keeping with a number of other historic districts found in the Maryland and Virginia area. The use of darker colors including brown and black is most evident in the signs and markers featured on this first rendering board.

In the second design proposal a different color set is used as well as the addition of a dome or half circle like looking cap on some of the signs and markers. During the course of the presentation it was said that the steering committee appeared to favor this second design plan more than the other two although I can not confirm that at this point.

The final design scheme can be seen below and includes a bit of a modern graphic nautical theme on some of the signs reminiscent of a sail so as to highlight the character and heritage of sailing that Annapolis has become known for.


 Proposed Sign and Marker Design Three

Picture of The MERJE Design Proposal 3 of Sign And Markers For The Annapolis Maryland Wayfinding Project August 23rd 2012

Click On This Picture To View A Full Size Version

After Ms. Church finished her presentation of each of the design plan boards Mr. Boslo rejoined the discussion as he made some remarks about other aspects of a modern day Wayfinding service including the use of smart phone Apps and QR Codes on signs as a way to provide visitors additional information about a particular place or location. This topic was of a particular interest to one city retailer as well as to a representative from a digital signage and App development company that was in the audience although Mr. Boslo again emphasized that his company only identifies the components of a project and then assists in developing a plan for a Wayfinding service not to actually participate in the implementation any of its associated components.

Mr. Boslo went on to say that a visitor must have trust in the information of any Wayfinding service no matter where that information resides or originates. On a personal note I would like to add that on the subject of information that might be included in a Wayfinding service needs to be accurate and relevant to members of the visiting public as well. Gathering, editing, presenting, and maintaining any information for use by the public today is not without cost which will hopefully be taken in to consideration as the City moves forward on this project.

As the presentation part of the meeting drew to a close Mr. Boslo solicited questions from members of the audience of which a few were put forth to him. One person pointed out that the signage proposals presented in the meeting certainly showed a consistency of design throughout the area served by it however Annapolis is composed of multiple street scapes and was there any thoughts or discussions so far as to having some of these designs themes reflect the different districts in the city i.e, Historic Annapolis, West Annapolis, The Naval Academy and Eastport that a visitor might find themselves in? His answer was yes however he added that having a consistent design and symbol scheme for visitors, so that they can easily orient themselves to their surroundings and find their way around, was an important component for the success in this type of project.

Another member of the audience brought up the topic of mobile Apps and Mr. Boslo stated that some of the parameters for any Wayfinding mobile or smart phone App would need to include providing retail and dining information as well as what places are adjacent to where a visitor finds themselves at the time. In other words tell them what is near them when they are using the App but the information needs to be more about local business than about detailed information for the area that they are in at the time. On this point Mr. Boslo shared with the audience how Park Annapolis is working on or currently evaluating a real time parking space availability App but he emphasized the issue of where does the data comes from for any App. He said that the data either originates from a private concern, an open data feed or a combination of the two of them and that there are issues that should be addressed with any of these three approaches in providing data to visitors through a mobile App.

After a few more questions from the audience the meeting ended at which point I spent some time talking with Ms. Nash about how the Wayfinding in Annapolis project got started and where was it possibly heading. She shared with me how the City had put out a proposal for assistance earlier this year to study what a replacement Wayfinding service would include and that the firm MREJE had been selected to provide support services for the project. Ms. Nash went on to say, in response to my questions about the project, that sometime in the future there will be another public meeting where the final design proposal will be featured along with the recommended components of a replacement Wayfinding service for Annapolis. These various components of the proposed service would be noted and the associated general costs determined so that the Annapolis City Council could then review her department’s recommendations and then possibly choose to fund some, none or various components of it as they see fit to do.

Later as I was leaving the meeting I ran into Mayor Cohen and shared my thoughts with him on what I had heard and seen in the meeting including how I was not to especially enamored with the first design proposal for it seemed that it is one that I have seen in too many cities and towns in Maryland as well as in Virginia. I added that I felt that Annapolis should have a design that uniquely identifies our historical and maritime character yet not in some overly glitzy way while also having a bit of a modern flair to it.

As this Wayfinding evaluation project moves on to its final design stage, along with the work of the City Dock Advisory Committee, the City of Annapolis looks to the future with a new vision in which to better serve her visitors and guests.


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