Graphic design is a powerful tool that can transform a neighborhood, a community, a city. Murals, public art, banners, bus shelters, bike repairs station, and wayfinding signage are tools that can create a sense of place. These visual elements, tied together through an integrated brand identity, can bind disparate pieces to form an interconnected district that functions, attracts, and inspires.
Arcturis’ Planning group saw room for improvement on this historic, suburban roadway. There were pockets of dead space separating businesses, tired sidewalks and crossings, and dangerous intersections that often caused traffic. In response, the group created a corridor master plan with The Loop in Columbia, Missouri that incorporated needed crosswalks, welcoming gateways, development areas, placemaking, and sustainable design. Arcturis’ Graphic and Brand Design group was added to the team to draw out how to further elevate these functional enhancements through graphic elements and brand.
“Cities are increasingly using graphic design for urban planning — as a substitute for traditional signage, to enliven a street, or even to bring attention to the planning process itself.”
Director of The Loop Community Improvement District
After meeting with an engaged and committed stakeholder group, including a diverse cross section of business owners and community members, the design team came up with a “kit of parts” that would add another layer of engagement to the functional aspects of the project. A visual vocabulary, placemaking concepts, and location strategy, a branded kit of parts and guidelines resource guide were to reflect the industrial and edgy personality of the district’s businesses and shops. The neighborhood is comprised of small business owners, makers, and community members. We wanted the graphic elements we developed to celebrate what already exists in the community, and at the same time, to invite growth and opportunities for engagement. For example, to help the district function better, gateways were incorporated to welcome visitors into the area and let them know they were somewhere special. The COMO “super graphic” was suggested to be used on the gateway to the west and east of the district.
The power of graphic design and brand is often subtle; through creativity, design can spark the imagination and inspire the user to act. Another aspiration for the stakeholder group was to entice visitors to The Loop to stay and make multiple stops within the district. One idea that came out of the committee’s work was the concept of a “festival lot.” A local business donated the use of an empty lot where the district could use pieces from the design tool kit to create a fun, playful destination for visitors to linger. Graphics were applied to a newly resurfaced and empty lot in the middle of the district. By adding color, energy, and interest, this lot became a huge success. The lot is now used for community events for all ages, including live, local band performances.
Arcturis hosted work sessions with an engaged stakeholder committee to understand the voice and goals of the district. The team created a site plan that highlighted opportunities where design could inspire, engage, and inform community members of key locations within The Loop.
Again, Director Carrie Gartner:
“One key selling point of our new urban design team Arcturis was their understanding of the power of graphic design to quickly create an identity for The Loop. For a project that will be primarily focused on infrastructure improvements, it’s important to remember that turning lanes and sidewalks, while important, aren’t enough to convey a sense of place.
Smart graphic design elements will help us convey a message, guide visitors, and manage interactions. But, most importantly, it can help us tell the story of The Loop.”
At the core of all the design was the intention to tell a story of The Loop: recognizing how the area’s eclectic past of commercial/industrial uses could evolve into a “maker’s” future. The words “MAKE WORK PLAY” were called out in the stakeholder meeting as the group expressed a need to coalesce the creative spirit, industrial reality, and goal of playfulness within the area. Using bus shelters and bright banners (to name a few) these words communicate the future aspirations of the area: Make things. Work here. Play with others. Through graphic design and brand messaging, the spirit of creative makers, hard work, and playfulness pulls the area together and creates opportunities for engagement.
While The Loop’s new brand identity is just getting started, it is amazing to see how just the festival lot alone has attracted all ages to come to The Loop. To make. To work. To play. We are excited to continue watching The Loop bloom into a district that makes people feel safe, energized, inspired, adventurous, and surprised.The Loop is an incredible example of how a spirited and committed group of community members, an inspired and focused Executive Director, and a collaborative design team can use design to bring planning and a vision to life.