Signage and wayfinding with Ian Whybrow 

2013–15

 

We were commissioned to review the signage and wayfinding as part of the Tate Britain Millbank project under the building master plan by Caruso St John architects. The existing sign system had developed in an ad hoc manner, resulting in disjointed layers of disparate sign systems, compounded by the use of a scheme, typography and materials developed principally as a graphic identity for a sister building, Tate Modern – an environment very different in atmosphere and architecture.

We reduced the presence of signs and promotional material to an ‘essential only’ state, and integrated the signage with the architectural, structural and operational requirements of the building. Whereas very present ‘supergraphics’ may be appropriate in a noisy, fast environment, the requirements in a gallery like this are different. The signage could be less present and more dignified.

As part of the re-hang, and the ‘Walk through British Art’ display, the gallery layout has been reconfigured to create a circuit around its outer perimeter, exploiting the long enfilades of galleries that open onto each another. The circuit travels anti-clockwise around the building, with threshold dates sign-painted onto the floor to tell you where you are in time. This is supported by a schematic map of the chronological circuit cut in brass. Permanent aluminium captions and labels are painted to match the wall colours, angled and positioned below the artworks. The emphasis is on looking rather than reading first (more contextual information is given in the new Tate Britain Companion). Where possible and appropriate, we replaced unsympathetic vinyl donor accreditation with sign-painted gilt letterforms painted directly onto walls by Phil Surey. We designed a new display typeface inspired by Bowles – a ‘British vernacular’ letterform for a British building. This letterform is cast in brass for external signs and silkscreened directly onto the interior walls. Where the ‘Tate Pro’ typeface is used, we commissioned an expert set of numerals – a better fit for the number-heavy data we were presenting. As part of a ‘total’ scheme for Tate Britain, we designed templates for new maps, menus, banners and posters.