University Circle Project Served as Springboard for Guide


Since 1997, Guide Studio has partnered with a variety of communities and place-based organizations seeking to engage with residents, visitors and local businesses. A project Guide took on in 2007 with University Circle, Inc. (UCI) became a springboard into sizeable city and district-based signage and wayfinding programs of all kinds. 

University Circle, a premier urban district and innovation center in Cleveland, is home to well-known cultural, educational and healthcare institutions such as the Severance Hall, home to the Cleveland Orchestra, the Natural History Museum, the Cleveland Botanical Gardens, the Cleveland Museum of Art, just to name a few.

The Guide team was tasked with defining district boundaries, announcing arrival, as well as creating a wayfinding system to help visitors navigate through the maze of winding streets.

“While Guide had certainly tackled some place-based branding and wayfinding work, we had done nothing of this scale before,” says studio President Cathy Fromet. “We worked hard on the Request for Proposal to make sure our experience showed. But we were new players and really wanted to get the work. We were so grateful for this opportunity.”

Guide immediately recognized an outdated sign program that provided no sense of identity or entry into the vibrant district. Directional signage lacked hierarchy, at times presenting 3x the messages that could be read by vehicular travelers. The older design and confusing messaging did little to direct visitors through the world-class tourist destination. Guide audited the existing signage and navigational challenges, a process that included interviewing several of the institutions that call University Circle to hear first-hand the complaints of frustrated visitors. Initial discovery aided the studio in development around wayfinding philosophies, programming and aesthetic goals. 

A signage framework developed by Guide housed recommendations for consistent naming conventions, information and fewer messages. As the Guide team moved into design, they took to heart the desire of UCI staff to create an attractive, artistic sign program that would enhance the surrounding environment. 

Partnering with Wagner Electric Sign Company out of Elyria, OH, the Guide team saw their hard work fabricated via a sign program that featured attractive entry and gateway signage announcing your arrival into the community; and a clear, consistent directional sign system guiding people toward destination-specific parking as well as kiosks and finger-pointer signs to help pedestrians explore the area.

Design features included mesh sign structures that provided some visual interest and transparency to the large signs, small footprints and high messages so parked cars would not block pertinent information, and interpretation of the University Circle brand via color, typography and form. These sculpture-like signs used consistent messaging and carefully organized messaging. The end result was a wayfinding system that safely navigated pedestrians and drivers alike. 

Though it’s nice to have a beautiful sign program, it’s nicer still to know this signage is working as intended, especially when it comes to getting around a dense district like University Circle.

“That’s the best thing we can hear from people who have visited University Circle both before and after the program was installed, was that it was so much easier to get around,” says Cathy. “UCI now had confidence that people could find their way around when they got to the district and start their visit off on the right foot. It allowed them to focus on other things to engage people visiting the district through the development of some spectacular signature events like Parade the Circle and Wade Oval Wednesdays.”

The project also allowed the Guide team to trust their process and approach to wayfinding in complex, urban areas. “The work challenged us in new ways and gave us confidence in doing large-scale work with cities and downtowns.”

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