DNCO showcase wayfinding of all shapes and sizes with their collaborative It’s a Sign exhibition
Featured in the London-based studio’s in-house gallery, DNCO’s collaborative exhibition ‘It’s a Sign!’ celebrates wayfinding in its many manifestations; from scribbled and sellotaped notes to comprehensive road signage systems.
The exhibition itself showcases a curated collection of horrendous, hilarious, and humble sign-based submissions from designers, architects, and members of the public. These also star in the show’s catalogue, the proceeds of which go towards long-time collaborators Manna Society; DNCO’s charity partner that focus on tackling Southwark's homelessness crisis.
“We’ve long held an interest in signage and wayfinding,” Creative Director Patrick Eley tells us, “it’s a three-dimensional discipline which requires rigorous strategic logic and articulate clarity,” he adds, finding satisfaction in the combination of refined graphic design sensibilities, precise engineering and product design. “You can obsess over arrows and iconography,” Eley explains, leading you down unique and exciting avenues of data demonstration. “There’s never just one way of doing something,” he recalls, “there’s rarely a wrong answer, just another, sometimes better solution.”
The notion of signage, and more specifically wayfinding, also becomes a manifestation of the environment it is within, translating a sense of place, the sentiment of which is a concept firmly cemented within DNCO’s practice. “It can so fundamentally contribute to the character of a place in sometimes almost intangible ways,” Eley adds, “that there is a surprising power in signage,” noting the legibility of British road signs. “An exhibition seemed a logical step in beginning to explore these ideas,” he tells us, “and what else were we going to do with all those pictures of signs on our phones,” Eley adds, calling out every graphic designer for the hypothetical typeface-based-off-a-sign-they-saw-on-holiday project that they are definitely going to do at some point.
Considering the greater picture, Eley notes the poetry of wayfinding, and how, in essence, it is a conversation between two people. “Many signs aim to make that conversation barely noticeable,” he explains, whilst others do the opposite. “Ultimately though, that conversation is more of a pact between people and whether a sign is good or bad is really about trust,” Eley tells us, suggesting how we all, for the most part, willingly and blindly trust their inscription. “If a sign says one thing and you expect another,” Eley asks, “then it’s a small act of betrayal, and betrayal hurts.”
The identity for the exhibition conveys the variation found within wayfinding while also exuding DNCO’s enthusiasm for the subject. “We wanted to reflect the broad and eclectic language of signs,” Eley explains, selecting four individual typefaces, each as characterful as the last, from long-standing friends of studio Colophon Foundry. Immediately creating a tension between the contrast of style and form, the typefaces Aperçu, Brick Display, Central Avenue and Monosten are each partnered with a specific sign-based silhouette. “We could mix and match the typestyles to create an ever-changing identity,” Eley concludes.