Designing Consistent Communication

Following on from our completed project at the National Maritime Museum (NMM), we were asked back by Royal Museums Greenwich (RMG) to provide a new Wayfinding Strategy and Design for the famous London landmark, the Cutty Sark in Greenwich.

RMG took over the operational management of the ship in 2012, 6 years after the dramatic fire on board. Grimshaw Architects built a new glass roof for the ship restoring it to its former glory and providing a new visitor experience.

cutty sark

The existing wayfinding design had been in place since the restoration so it pre-dated the recent RMG brand identity. Our brief was to review the pedestrian flow, rethink the strategy and bring the design of the scheme in-line with the new brand identity.

Delighted to be able to work with the team at RMG again on such a prestigious project, we began our research and strategy stage. As we did at NMM, we conducted ethnographic research by observing visitors and asking questions about their experience. Interestingly, we observed some people walking the wrong way around the ship (according to the interpretation strategy) yet they still enjoyed their visit.

Design Workshop
Workshops helped to define the visitor experience.

It became apparent that wayfinding around the ship is not complex but required a layer of clarity so visitors could understand what was on offer on each level.

The Cutty Sark is a very different journey experience compared to the National Maritime Museum – instead of giving visitors options we needed to guide them along a specific route with information at key locations of what to expect next.

Fixing signs to the Cutty Sark was a challenge as there are limitations set by heritage and conservation so we needed to be clever with the product design. This was also the case at NMM where the brief was to design the products to be sympathetic to the architecture, we were able to collaborate with the RMG conservation team to resolve the design solutions for both sites. 

Although the strategy and design is tailored to meet the specific needs of the Cutty Sark, we were able to adopt a set of ready-made wayfinding principles established for the NMM. This included the bold graphics, dynamic imagery and use of a background pattern that was unique to the Cutty Sark – inspired by the shape of it’s hull and famous speed through the water. The pattern we designed took on the same design aesthetic as the NMM, providing an element of consistency between the sites.

Brand identities are a set of rules to follow that will enable brand recognition – we understand that wayfinding design and strategy principles can be an extension of brand guidelines to achieve a stronger connection across different sites.

Applying brand assets to graphics for signage is the simplest form of extension but wayfinding is much more than just signs. Wayfinding doesn’t just get people from A–B, it’s about everything before, in-between and afterwards. This includes tone of voice, inclusivity and customer experience which all play a part in communicating the core values of a brand.

Pictograms for both the Cutty Sark and National Maritime Museum.

In the case of RMG these values are brave, coherent, passionate and collaborative, all of which we have integrated into the wayfinding for both National Maritime Museum and Cutty Sark.

The project at Cutty Sark is due for completion very soon – watch this space for our case study.


Chris Girling

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