A new wayfinding strategy and design for the iconic Cutty Sark

The Cutty Sark is an iconic ship. First sailed in the 1870’s, the ship incredibly still retains around 90% of the original hull fabric with which it first launched.

Following a successful, award-winning project with Royal Museums Greenwich at the National Maritime Museum, CCD were asked to design a new wayfinding scheme for the Cutty Sark.

The design of the wayfinding needed to be unique to Cutty Sark whilst reflecting the Royal Museums’ Greenwich brand.

cutty sark

The Brief

The visitor experience at Cutty Sark is centred around the ship; it is the hero of the experience and also works as a navigation aid. The ship itself is considered an object and part of the collection, which presented unique challenges.

The wayfinding both needed to highlight and utilise the Cutty Sark’s features without physically touching the ship.

Visitor Experience

During our visitor research we discovered that the route around the ship wasn’t immediately obvious. The experience had been rebuilt after a fire in 2007 and a new tower connected the ship to the dry dock below the ship.

This compounded the visitor route. Our research found that visitors got confused and lost, and even missed sections of the ship. The tower connecting parts of the ship felt more like a back-of-house area, rather than a through-route to the next part of the visitor journey.

Graphic Design

The graphic and strategic wayfinding principles set at National Maritime Museum had been added as an extension of the Royal Museum’s Greenwich brand.

The scheme at Cutty Sark needed to retain a strong link to brand design principles whilst being unique to the Cutty Sark.

The Cutty Sark Hull Design

Ship Design

Cutty Sark represents the pinnacle of clipper ship design and was one of the fastest ships of its day. We were able to maintain a pattern design that was similar in style to the pattern used at NMM, yet unique to Cutty Sark.

The pattern represents the shape of the ship’s hull. Importantly, this was regarded as the ship’s biggest advantage, giving it such significant speed at sea.

Product Design

As the ship itself is an historic piece there were practical constraints, such as no signage fixing to the ship.

The product design used creative fixing methods such as wrapping signs around existing architecture and using high strength magnets.

Helping visitors to explore and discover the Cutty Sark

‘Arrival’ signs at each level featured a brand new map design so visitors can understand where they are in the context of the ship. The signs were finished in a real metal copper paint to match the cladding of the ships hull.

Directional signs placed in key locations encouraged visitors to keep moving through the tower down to see under the hull of the ship – arguably one of the ships best features, and one that some visitors were missing during their visit.

A clear, sympathetic solution

Keeping visitors on the right route around, up and down the levels was made clear with strategically positioned simple directional signs.

Special care was given to provide a solution that was easy to use yet sympathetic to the ship and it’s architecture.

A wayfinding map of the Cutty Sark