This was my first trip to the Seattle Art Museum (SAM). We were visiting to explore the quality of the wayfinding SAM uses…however it was so hard not to get sucked into the amazing art themselves. But, that in itself speaks to the quality of the wayfinding used. I found myself getting lost in the museum…lost in a good way. I didn’t really have to think about where I was headed – the exhibits somehow transitioned into one another in a quiet, non-interruptive way. The floor plan to each level of the museum kind of reminded me of a maze…just when I thought I was headed back to where I came from, another turn would send me off into a whole other wing, or exhibit. Sure enough, I was able to somehow navigate myself back to the escalators eventually. In any other building, this type of wayfinding would make me feel lost and anxious…but in this setting, it worked beautifully.
The design of the wayfinding is very simplified, yet is still very appealing. At first glance, the color palette chosen seemed kind of boring and subdued, but once I thought about the colors in the context and setting, I felt they were the right choice. The font choice was a clean, sans serif, and black or white, all of the brochures, maps and signage are cohesive and use the same font and choice of typographical hierarchy. Some of the signs were a little hard to figure out which art they belonged to. And the signs for the pieces displayed in the middle of the floor were a little inconsistently placed. The signs that were placed at the entrances of the exhibits were about eye level with me – which was nice for me, but I don’t see that being very convenient for the shorter, younger crowd that visits this museum. Also, some of the entrances had names at the very top of the wall, touching the ceiling, which I felt was very hard to notice. Additionally, there were some exhibits that had large blocks of text on the walls, and while being legible, the blocks were sometimes quite large and not the most “user friendly.” They could have been easier to read if they were broken up a bit more. As well as some of the “no photography in this exhibition” signs at the entrance of a few of the rooms was way too small. I accidentally photographed an entire exhibit, and only noticed upon exiting, the no photo signage. The placement of these signs could use some work.
Another subtle, yet effective, element of the wayfinding was the transition of wall colors from exhibit to exhibit. The rooms changed from white, to a tinted out blue, to beige, to cream, gray, and even a shaded red. The wall color choice imparted a different “mood” to each of the exhibits. It was a slight way of impacting the feel of the exhibits without being overt.
One element that was mostly great was the lighting. The lighting in each exhibit ranges from extremely bright with little individual focus on pieces, to a completely dark room with small spotlights on each piece. While this was a great way to give a different feel to the pieces, in the really dark rooms, my bad eyesight was straining to really see the pieces of art. This was a little annoying. Another element that added a subtle layer to some of the pieces were projectors that were airing videos on the walls or projected onto screens. I almost passed one of the projections at an exhibit of masks because the projector was on the ground and it was being projected onto the side of the escalator. Many of these projections were silent until you stood in one particular spot where a special type of speaker was being used that was only audible when standing right there. That was a nice surprise element.
SAM does a nice job of letting the artwork have the spotlight and letting the wayfinding be the supporting role. I would assume a wide range of ages visits this museum every year, because they keep the design relatively neutral and slightly modern. And I did witness a very wide range of people while I was visiting as well. All in all they do a very effective job of wayfinding.