Greenlake Park

How might I design a wayfinding system and public art for Greenlake Park that is clear, cohesive, engaging, and effective?
Project Overview
The current wayfinding system at Greenlake Park in Seattle is confusing, poorly maintained, and therefore ineffective. That is why the themes of education, accessibility, and interconnectedness are at the core of this project. To make this happen, all of the signs, maps, and other environmental elements are inherently interwoven with the natural and human history of the park. 
My Contributions
  • Research the history of the area and carry out
  • Interviews with current park goers
  • Designing a system for all of the park’s wayfinding
  • Designing public art that is engaging and utilitarian
Greenlake park on a sunny fall afternoon
Research & Audience
At the park, I evaluated the accessibility features of current maps and signage. For example, in terms of typography, the smallest type in the map is 11 pt, which for that type of sign is way too small, and is nearly impossible to read unless you are face-to-face with the sign. The names of the streets are easy to miss and ineligible because of the color and type size. The point of interest sign's layout is unsuccessful, though readable. According to users, it presents too much information and is not engaging, it feels like reading an old history book.

The map’s icons are a bit too small on the path rules and excessively tiny on the map. They are also stylistically inconsistent. Clarity and consistency for icons are key, given that they are the main way people interpret information and find their way on the map. Of the people that I asked, when scanning the signs, they mostly looked at large words and icons, not small words (and certainly not grids). 

All the signs, icons, and colors should be part of one universal language with the same style and mood. The path rules sign has an important amount of redundant info, and the grid in the map is useless for the users I interviewed in the park.
Initial Steps
I carried out extensive research on Greenlake’s natural and human history, to have a solid understanding of what makes this park unique, and to keep in mind how that history can be reflected in the system and public art design. 

I also visited the park several times and carried out short interviews with parkgoers. I gained powerful insight into how users experience the park, what is important to them, and what they find difficult. 
Current map of Greenlake Park,
which is grid based
Aster and Goldenrods in bloom, which are at the core of my design concept
Map of Greenlake showcasing depth, courtesy of
Local park bench which inspired the design for the public sculptures
For the color scheme, I took inspiration from native vegetation, since they have the wisdom of being noticed without being out of place, and of creating harmony while still attracting visitors - which are also the goals of signage and the park itself. Aster and Goldenrod are plants native to the American continent. They are not just beautiful, but they are also a home and source of sustenance for a variety of insects, which is especially critical with the seasons and climate change.  

Aster and Goldenrod are also prime examples of teamwork and harmony. They visually look to bees similarly visually as they appear to us:  a display of complimentary colors that makes each other more vibrant. Growing together they receive more pollinators than if they were alone.
“We see the world more fully when we use both indigenous and scientific knowledge,” says author and scientist Robin Wall Kimmerer.
I took inspiration from her work as the core concept for this project.
Illustrated image of Greenlake park with park signs. Flat colors indicate landscape elements.
Greenlake illustrated scenery with family of signs
According to scientific research, the sequence of cognition is as follows: the brain acknowledges and remembers shapes first, color second, and form/content third. The family of icons is designed to be read and understood as quickly as possible, with simple and recognizable shapes. They are all accompanied by text and descriptions, for added accessibility. 

The tone of the icons is friendly and inviting, which is very important for a public place of recreation. The rounded edges and flat shapes evoke feelings of safety and softness. The process of making these icons involved user testing and iteration based on results. For example, the “you are here” star is the only icon of the map that is filled in, and it has a unique map color, so it stands out immediately and helps users orient faster.
Icons & Signs
The signs of the park have been designed as a cohesive story - rounder shapes for friendliness, flat graphics for accessibility and ease of reading, and vibrant colors that tie to the natural environment.
Family of signs for Greenlake Park Projectminckuding regulatory signs, path rules, and directional signs
Family of signs: regulatory signs, path rules, and directional signs
The map of Greenlake continues the themes of familiar, round shapes, accessibility, and insight into this area’s natural and human history. The map includes the depth of the lake in topographic layers, shown in contours that depict an increase in depth of 5 feet. The specific depth measurements are not included for several reasons: to not overwhelm and distract the user with unnecessary detail, the map is an abstraction and not a scientific depiction, and to account for depth changes over time. The reading of the colors where deeper areas are darker is intuitive and easy to grasp. 

The map is quick and easy to read. To achieve this, the park was divided into three main areas - purple, orange, and magenta. These are the colors of flowers found in the park, and where the corresponding public sculptures are located.

The three zones will help users identify their location and their destination quickly, while also learning a bit more about where they are.
The map includes a Land Acknowledgement, and the name of the area in Lushootseed, the language spoken by several Salish tribes, and one of the Coast Salish languages.
The sculptures are of local fauna and flora that can be found in Greenlake. They also continue the story of Aster and Goldenrod, and highlight the interconnectivity of people and the environment.

After visiting the park several times under different weather conditions, I noticed there is not an abundance of rain shelters or places to sit. This park is also very frequented by families, so I designed some public art to be specially designed to engage children.

The statues will be made of a material that will not overheat in the sun, so they will be comfortable to use in the summer as well as winter. They will be painted with industrial air spray, so they will be easy to repaint in case of damage or vandalism.
Public Sculptures
The pieces of public art continue the story of interconnectedness with our natural environment.
The mural depicts animals and plants found in Greenlake park, which are interconnected with ribbons of color. People can play and follow the ribbons along, and see which creatures they end up connected to. All of the creatures can be found in Greenlake park, and many of them are native to the area. This will help parkgoers become more familiar with their surroundings, and gain an appreciation for the nature that we are all a part of.

Additionally, any of the panels will serve as a fantastic stage backdrop for local musicians that want to do impromptu concerts in this area, which also relates to the historical function of the Aquatheater as a place of entertainment. Bright and warm colors will bring energy to the area. Given that Seattle has no short supply of gray days, this mural will revive this forgotten area of the park, and keep it vibrant all year round. The colors of the mural also connect to the colors on the path, which are reflected on the courtesy rule signage as well. This way, enjoying Greenlake park will be a cohesive story for parkgoers, from beginning to end.

The mural will also extend to the sides of the Aquatheater building, enveloping it. There is certainly no shortage of interesting plants, insects, and animals that people can learn about in the area. Local schools can bring their classes and create extensions of the mural and paint further creatures to get to know, or they can simply study the pre-existing ones.
 “Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect”— Chief Seattle
Front view of the mural at the old Aqua Theater site
Side view of the mural at the old Aqua Theater site
Flat view of mural, and original sketch
Lessons learned & Next Steps
Delving into the requirements and regulations for signs and public art in a public area was an illuminating endeavor, and the findings from that research were incorporated into this solution.

There are structural issues that the wayfinding system is not able to solve. For example, there is quite a high volume of people that attend the park, and on a sunny summer day that can easily double. Most of those users do not respect the path rules - for the very good reason that the paths are too small for so many people to do so. There is also a high number of users that bring their dogs, but there is a lack of trash cans along the loop, no dog waste bag supply, and little information guides on dog behavior.

For a future iteration of this project, I would like the signs to have tiny solar panels and lights, so they are also easy to find and readable at night. Greenlake has a life after dark, which is great for such a central public space. However, some users might not feel safe at a park at night if it has no lights. I believe way-finding systems that are also accessible at night will help to make this public space enjoyable after dark as well, which in winter is a good chunk of the time.
Final thoughts
Balancing accessibility, engagement, and delight in one system meant to serve the widest possible variety of users is an exciting challenge that I was thrilled to solve.