Information design:
in practice, an informed theory

InformForm is an international platform for information design, which celebrates and explores both practical and theoretical experimentation within the field of design. It prides itself on showcasing relevant examples of work by students, for students. Read More

Interview: Holmes Wood

by InformForm

Tate Modern Wayfinding by Holmes Wood

Holmes Wood is a leading design studio, specialising in direction and information schemes working across and with a range of mediums, technologies and spaces. How did you meet and set up?

Lucy’s first job was as a junior designer at Pentagram London, and Tate was a client for her team. When she left to set up as a freelancer, she continued to work with Tate on exhibitions and print design. Lucy was asked back to develop the design for both Tate Britain and Tate Modern when Wolff Olins were appointed to rebrand Tate in 2000. Alex set up her own studio after leaving her family sign business, Wood and Wood4. She wanted to concentrate on developing wayfinding strategy—something not taken seriously in the 1990’s. Lucy introduced Alex to Tate Modern, and the two became responsible for the information graphics and wayfinding for the opening of Tate Modern, and subsequent relaunch of Tate Britain.

What/where did you both study? Information design and wayfinding is often a module or pathway on a graphic design course, as opposed to a course in its own right. Did you have the opportunity to specialise in this area during your study or did this interest develop later?

Lucy studied Graphic Design at the Rhode Island School of Design in America. Wayfinding and information graphics was not, at that time, a defined discipline. Typography was at the heart of the course, and craft was an important focus. Her training pre-dates the use of computers—they were arriving in the final year! Alex started to learn from the practical experience of designing schemes at Wood and Wood. She realised there was a missing link between designers, who had created brand identities, but didn’t know how to turn these into 3D information graphics. As well as a further missing link between sign makers, who made their money out of selling lots of signs, and could not give unbiased advice when advising clients about layout and content.

Here at InformForm we believe that learning never stops. What are some of the most important things you’ve learned since you graduated?

Every project is unique, and there are a multitude of different potential solutions. So we shouldn’t let any one process overrule creative thinking.

What do you feel is the importance of experimentation, prototyping and testing in your work?

Testing and prototyping is an integral part of our process. By working in the built environment, we can only do so much with paper based visualisations. We always produce scaled work and spend time in the physical space itself. When working on a new build, we do use sketch-up to create ‘walkthroughs’ to support our designs. Testing materials and techniques is crucial—we are constantly challenging the materials that we work with and exploring new innovations.

Scale, mediums, production methods and environments must differ greatly from client to client. What type of approach, method or process do you refer to when starting a new project?

For us, every brief is a new challenge, every client has specific qualities and every space is different. We have a rigorous and inventive approach to our work, and it starts with proper consultation. Every solution aims to be absolutely about branding the built environment—with the people who are going to use the space at the heart of the strategy.

Information design and specialisms within this field seem to go under several other terms and definition that often leading to confusion—particularly with students. What’s your experience of this?

We totally agree. Project briefs vary tremendously and are often called all sorts of different things. However, if you understand what the client is after, it doesn’t matter what they call it. We help them define what they want, and nomenclature forms a big part of that. To rename the project itself can be the first sign of change, and to define what our work is all about.

Finally do you have any advice for students studying the subject now?

Typography, typography, typography.

Posted in Articles
April 29, 2015
700 words & 4 images

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