A memorable interview with a prospective intern went like this:
We’re sitting at the conference table; her at one side, me [Ryan] on the other. Really cool girl who went to my same college, had the same professors – she was graduating that year, so this was her required internship. We flipped through her portfolio, one school project after another, until pushing it aside. She gave art school explanations as to why something was executed in a particular manner or her thought processes behind typographic exploration posters from a Design 2 class. She finished and I asked what her favorite print, design inspiration or interests are. She thought for a moment, looked around the studio like watching a particle of dust dance around her head. Finally she stared me squarely in the eye and said, “Parking garages.”
Not the answer I expected and certainly one that caught me off guard. Immediately this girl piqued my interest. I laughed and asked her what she meant. Coincidentally I’ve always had a secret crush on parking garage wayfinding, but to hear someone else randomly express the same interest was intriguing. And I had heard a lot of random things during my years at the design studio. She told me she loved typography and the way letters and numbers are used creatively to direct people.
That moment, however random it was, stuck in my mind for four years – so much so that it inspired this blog post. This totally random, out-of-left-field blog post about, well, parking garage design.
So here it is.
What’s cool about parking garage design?
Good question. Probably 2.6% of the population has ever thought about, let alone asked another individual, why the design of parking garage signage is cool. I’m convinced there are more of us out there, but who actually goes so far as to have an open dialogue about something so easily overlooked and taken for granted? Come on, folks, step forward if you’ve found yourself drooling over a beautifully effortless P5 stenciled on a concrete pole. Or a bold, modern, brightly colored 3 painted on the wall by an elevator.
Parking garage wayfinding embodies the very essence of graphic design – symbols used to visually communicate a message within our society. It is the most basic, most pure use of design – dating back to ancient times when humans wrote purely in symbol. I think they called it hieroglyphics or whatever.
A designer has the ability to take something as seemingly bland and simple as parking garage signage and make it interesting. Strike the balance of form and function, creative and practical, while still maintaining clear communication and universal ease of use. This type of project offers a canvas for the artist to work within their limitations and utilize the foundation of design to push boundaries of what is expected. To create something that makes a person stop and think, wow that’s cool. Even if it’s just a parking garage stencil. And, of course, help them find their car.
The other day our team went to Brickell City Centre, an outdoor mall in Miami that makes me wish I had a minimum of $2K in my bank account to blow. But alas, a coffee and ice cream would do. Oh, and, Pentagram branded Brickell City Centre, so, yeah, it’s pretty awesome.
Anyway my point is – we pulled into the parking garage and the wayfinding immediately stands out. Simple, clean, perfectly in-line with their established brand identity. Custom typography stenciled rhythmically amongst concrete. I realized something so obvious I’d never thought before – a parking garage is often our first introduction to a hospitality brand. It immediately begins to visually communicate the branded experience so subtly that most people pay it no mind. I mean, we see it – we have to remember where our stupid car is parked, right? But we pay it very little attention on any deeper level, and yet this design sets the tone for whatever we are about to step into – a mall, hotel, attraction, apartment, restaurant. Pretty cool. Or maybe I’m nerding out a bit – but you’re still reading.
So naturally I had to Pinterest parking garage design because, why not? Here are some favorites.