Environmental graphic design and its history with architecture highlights the value of cross-disciplinary expertise | News

Architecture as a practice lends itself to fruitful collaborations with adjacent disciplines such as graphic design. When married in a project, the results often exude an exciting blend of color, style, scale, and unique aesthetics. There are plenty of examples to reference from if we look back at architecture’s history with graphic design and its sub-disciplines like wayfinding, signage design, and environmental graphic design.

Take the iconic works of graphic designer Deborah Sussman and her collaborations with many architects like Frank Gehry or Barabara Stauffer Solomon and her work at Sea Ranch in the 1960s. While these are merely two of my favorite examples of the relationship between architecture and graphic design, we can see this marriage of disciplines used by architecture firms around the globe. So why discuss such a topic that has become commonplace within design industries?

Design consultancies like Pentagram and other independently run design practices like Isometric Studio effortlessly combine architecture, graphic design, and environmental graphics in their work. These examples of cross-disciplinary expertise highlight the additional opportunities architecture students, architects, and design professionals have when creating a career path for themselves.

J. Magnin Department Stores (cir. late 60s), designed by Deborah Sussman in collaboration with Frank Gehry and other architects. Image courtesy of WUHO.

Previously reported on Archinect: New documentary short film shows off the groundbreaking design work of Barbara Stauffacher Solomon

In 2022, multidisciplinary approaches to work can be found almost everywhere. For example, it’s been widely discussed on Archinect that having an architecture background can offer various career paths and trajectories to those who seek it. The art of graphic and environmental design is no exception. While searching through the Archinect forum, I was intrigued by two comments in a previous discussion thread appropriately named: Correlation between architecture and graphic design. What began as a simple forum question developed into a mix of shared information and sarcastically helpful responses. Throughout this discussion, Architect silvernoise shared, “Graphic design and architecture are tied together tightly in various points of the architectural design process. Everything we create is graphic and must communicate a recipe of sorts for a building. The pure layout and aesthetic aren’t as related as the information aspect of it all.”

Sea Ranch Tennis Club supergraphics by Barbara Stauffacher Solomon. Photo © Jim Alinder/Princeton Architectural Press

Many people mistake this field to be just signage, but it is more than that, it creates branding and identity for a building /corporation. – mimo, Archinect user

Later on in the thread, Archinectormimoshared, “environmental graphic design is a field that few are aware of, but it is booming and combines elements of architecture and graphic design into one. Firms that have been successful in this field are Gensler, Perkins + Will, Pentagram, Sussman/Preja , InfiniteScale Design, to name a few. I am an environmental graphic designer with an architecture degree. Many people mistake this field to be just signage, but it is more than that, it creates branding and identity for a building/corporation. Importantly, it helps people navigate, a building alone will never efficiently be successful in navigating its users/visitors.”

Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College. Design led by Abbott Miller along with design team: Kim Walker Kirsty Gundry Wenjie Lu. Image courtesy of Pentagram.

If we reflect on these two comments made back in 2008 to the present day, it’s clear to highlight the growth of this design specialty and its importance. Of course, not all architects are brilliant graphic designers, but as our editorial team has frequently discussed in the past, having a background in architecture does create an educational foundation that can be applied to other design disciplines and employment opportunities. On this note, Pentagram has recently posted a job listing for a Signage & Wayfinding Project Manager.

Pentagram shares that they seek a highly-skilled designer with 2-4 years of experience in Environmental Graphic Design, Interior Design, and Architecture. The ideal candidate will work and “support Pentagram Partner Paula Scher and team in the execution of projects and managing communication between the project designers, production vendors, contractors, fabricators, and client team.”

Visual identity for Maker Mile – Pentagram’s Astrid Stavro and team. Image courtesy of Pentagram.

While the discussion thread I previously mentioned could benefit from a revival in the forum, it helps reiterate that many architecture jobs vary. While working at a traditional architecture firm is the goal for some, others seek the non-traditional route to apply their skills.

*As part of Archinect’s job highlights series, we showcase employment opportunities for individuals with architecture backgrounds who are exploring other ways to apply their skills beyond a traditional architecture firm.

To read inspiring stories of architects that have found success in other industries, check out Archinect’s Working Out of the Box series.

Stay up to date with our latest coverage of exciting opportunities on the Archinect Job Board following the tag Interesting Jobs.

About the author


Leave a Comment