Fourth Global Conference of the International Federation on Ageing : Program Session 3 Universal Design Workshop9 'VISION'


Ageing in a society for all ages

Fourth Global Conference of the International Federation on Ageing : Program Session 3 Universal Design Workshop9 'VISION'

presentater: Miyuki Hagino

"Signage plans with auditory and tactile design"

Many years ago I visited London and stayed at the home of a friend. When I went to wash my hands and looked in the mirror, my own image was not reflected back. Had I turned into a ghost? No, I was simply too short for the mirror. My height was below the standard range for British adults. I was a special-needs case. Standards vary from one location to another. They also change over time. Human ageing is an obvious example of this.

I work as an industrial designer. A great deal of my work involves signage planning. It is a field that combines graphic design, architecture, and industrial design. Most of the projects that I undertake are for large-scale, multi-purpose structures, including both public facilities and privately owned buildings. My work also includes projects in the transportation sector, such as subways and airports.

My mission as an industrial designer is to plan signs that read clearly, convey information accurately, and thus direct people to their destinations. Signage should also enhance the appearance of its surroundings.

A decade or so ago, the presumed target group for signs consisted of what I would call "active" members of society. But in the years since, the ageing of the population has progressed. Many older people do not lead retiring lives but are out and about in society. Active involvement in society by people with impairments has also become quite natural. Because of this, the target audience for signs " the group whose ability to comprehend signs must be considered " has broadened. And nowadays, designers cannot ignore the needs of people who are unable to read signs. In some cases, information cannot be conveyed using only letters and figures because of visual impairment. Auditory and tactile signage are effective options for communicating directional information in these cases.

Due to the varied circumstances of the target group for signage, designers have to allow for many different factors and consider many angles. We must ask ourselves: WHO will need signs? WHAT will these people be doing? WHERE will they do it? And HOW, that is, under what circumstances? Good design depends on anticipating as much as possible and then formulating appropriate parameters.

Because the target group for signage has expanded, designers have to step beyond their own realm of experience. The way we experience life does not necessarily overlap with the circumstances of everyone who will rely on our signs. For example, I can only imagine what my life will be like in the future. To prevent signage from being shaped by preconceived notions, designers need to educate themselves. When I have not experienced something myself, the only solution is to acquire knowledge.

Simply knowing that eyesight fails with age is not enough. Detailed knowledge is required. For example, at what age does this happen? Is the eyesight decline similar for most people, or do big differences exist among individuals? When vision weakens, how exactly do objects appear? What would enhance visibility? A bigger size? A different color? Are shiny surfaces okay? This is valuable information for a designer. I also believe that it is necessary to go even further. For example, I try to envision the life of a 75-year-old man in Tokyo.

I gather information by moving in circles that include the elderly and individuals with impairments. I interact with them and listen carefully to what they say. In my daily life for example, on trains I observe the people around me.

Now that you know something about my design philosophy, I would like to tell you about one of my signage projects. It is for a public facility that the government is building in a medium-sized city in Gifu Prefecture. A prefecture is like a state or a province, and Gifu is in central Japan. This five-story structure is adjacent to a railway station and will be ready in 2001.

The building includes an auditorium that seats 600 people, an Italian restaurant, and five conference rooms. It also has five rooms for cultural activities. The public will be able to use these rooms for such purposes as holding tea ceremonies or study groups. My job has been to design the buildings signs.

At the outset, I explained to my clients that nowadays outstanding architectural space must incorporate universal design. To accomplish this objective, I told them, signage planning entails a complex process that integrates every element, from the facilities in a building to its lighting, its decor, and the administration of the completed structure. My clients agreed to this approach. I should tell you that there is nothing related to signage in Japan's legal standards concerning accessibility.

I attempted to do several things with this signage project. Before sharing some of these with you, let me first describe three aspects of the building.

First, it is located in a city called Gifu in the center of Gifu Prefecture and is linked to a railway station. Transportation is thus very convenient, making the location easily accessible. About 450,000 people live in the city. The building will also attract many people who will come from surrounding towns via train or bus.

Second, anyone will be able to use the auditorium, the conference rooms, and the rooms for cultural activities. A broad spectrum of events and activities will take place in the auditorium and culture rooms.

Third, on-site guidance by staff working on the premises will be minimal. So proper signage will be necessary.

This building, then, will be used by the general public for numerous purposes. Many people will come to it quite often. Some will make periodic visits, say, once a month. Others will come less regularly.

With this projected visitor profile in mind, I planned the buildings signage. My planning covers the following three points.

The first is the positioning and size of signs. Some building visitors may be bent over or use wheel chairs. Signage size and positioning must accommodate their line of sight as well as the perspective of people standing upright. I decided to position signs in a range from 100 to 170 centimeters [1.0 to 1.7 meters]. But the sign that will serve as a directory for the entire building will include extensive information. For this directory, I decided to break away from the aforementioned range. I expanded it to a scope of 100 to 200 centimeters [1.0 to 2.0 meters]. This allows for a larger surface area and bigger letters, which improves legibility. I thus chose to proceed in a way that gave me the freedom to select different options for handling specific situations while also ensuring overall design integration.

The second point is auditory signage. My plans call for two types of equipment. One requires a special listening device, while the other does not. No such special device is needed for the first sign that visitors will encounter when they enter the building, that is, the directory to the premises. Pressing a button will activate an auditory explanation of the facility. However, some visitors may find it tiresome to listen to everything. They may only want to hear the information they need. To allow for this, we are planning a system with an auto-search mechanism to start the explanation at the desired place. It will also be possible to stop it in mid-explanation. One of my primary objectives is to make the operation of the auditory system as simple as possible.

The auditory equipment in individual rooms, restrooms, and other locations will require usage of a separate listening device. People will carry receivers that pick up infrared beams emitted by transmitters installed at room entrances. When a receiver detects this signal, it will provide an audio explanation that identifies the room and gives the current location. Anyone coming to the building will be able to borrow a receiver. The explanation heard at the directory inside the building entrance will announce that these devices are available and explain how to use them.

The third point is tactile signage. The surface of the floor from the building's entrance up to the first sign " the building directory " will feature a detectable difference to guide visitors in that direction. On each floor, a tactile map in the elevator area will explain that floor's layout. As you know, it is easier to comprehend what another person is expressing if you first have a general idea of what he or she will say. In the same way, it will be simpler for people to follow explanations and gain their bearings if they first grasp the overall layout.

The building is in a region of Japan known for its pottery, and the tactile maps will make use of this traditional local art. I believe they will be easy to understand either by sight or by touch and will also be attractive. Gifu Prefecture is renowned for its wood and ceramic industries, and the use of these materials for signage will give the building a distinctive look.

Tactile signage will also be used to designate individual rooms. These signs will feature raised lettering that can be understood by touch. To make the signs for the culture rooms easy to read in this way " and their names easy to remember " we have proposed using simple, familiar names. In addition, the entire building will have room designations in Braille on a protruding angled surface at a standard height of 140 centimeters [1.4 meters]. Anyone able to read Braille need only reach out and locate this slanted surface, knowing that once they find it, they will have access to information in Braille.

Aside from these points, PR activities must be done after the building has opened. Vigorous efforts to publicize its special features will be important so as to ensure that the facility is fully utilized. Announcements via the prefectural government's information channels and contact with local groups for the visually impaired will make the public aware of the way the building has been outfitted.

With any building, details are missed during the planning stage. Post-completion adjustments are inevitable so that a structure will be as occupant-friendly as possible. This is why it is important for designers to be involved beyond the planning stage. We should continue to supervise projects, not only during the execution of our plans, but also during the initial phase of administering a brand-new building.

In fifty years, everyone may have a little orientation or guide robot strapped to his or her wrist. But for now, we must continue to design signage that conveys an ever-greater amount of information in an increasingly complex world. One example of this challenge is Japan's capital. Tokyo's population totals twelve million people, and its mass-transit system includes twelve subway lines, plus even more aboveground railways.

Attractive universal design cannot be achieved without wisdom and imagination. Designers have to consider a target group of people whose circumstances are varied and who present some demanding conditions. There is no single magic solution that covers everything. But by giving full play to our wisdom, imagination, and flashes of insight, designers can continue to try new things. And through this process, we will gradually break new ground. The building I have described in Gifu represents a first step and sows seeds for future attempts.

Thank you very much for your kind attention.