Finding the Way: Transformation through Engaged Dialogue and Action

Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Publication Date


Publication Title

CELA Conference Proceeding



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The theme of this conference emboldens us to “engage in the layered dialogues that call to account their positions and reflect upon their actions” (Conference Call for Papers). As such, this paper revisits the opportunity to debate the assumed roles that wayfinding and branding play in transforming a campus’s accessibility, legibility, and community identity. In his book, Information Anxiety, Richard Saul Wurman suggests that the city exists as an aggregation of systems where order does not necessarily secure awareness. It is our contention that, nearly 30 years after the publication of Wurman’s work, university campuses can also be categorized as environments where, despite a normalized appearance of order, one’s cognition and experience of place can be distorted into an unacceptable norm. This presentation focuses on the cyclical responsive process of dialogue and action that occurred between students of landscape architecture, faculty members, and university administrators. The work that accompanies this text is the product of an undergraduate design studio that was asked to assist a major metropolitan university in crafting a wayfinding and branding master plan. The campus that this work focuses on was one of the three national university campuses that hosted a 2016 U.S. presidential debate. After the national news media departed from the campus, its administrators were forced to admit that the overall wayfinding and branding scheme employed throughout existed in parallel with Wurman’s thesis that order does not necessarily secure awareness. This work illustrates a multi-tiered methodology that includes case study analyses, an iterative and direct design feedback loop with representatives from the university president’s office for special projects, and as such, access and use of that unit’s database of survey mechanisms used in identifying the critical components needed for the successful completion of the master plan. In our findings, we will concentrate on the completion of the wayfinding and branding master plan, and the documentation of the activities that continue to take place between students, faculty, and the university stakeholders involved. An emphasis of importance will be placed on how the methodologies used enabled the students to distill the lessons learned throughout the cyclical process to “challenge conventions, habits of mind, and those deeply held meanings that guide our thinking about the contemporary urban campus” (Conference Call for Papers).


design education, wayfinding, branding, user experience



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