Narrowing Goshen's Visual Definition (Think Brick, Not Neon)


Good typography and good design go hand-in-hand, however, the two are not necessarily synonymous. That is to say, good design is based on the effective use of type yet also begins with a strong, overarching concept. But even then, any creative object or endeavor is scrutinized with a certain level of subjectivity; there is no definitive way of classifying art/design as “good” versus “bad,” and we all have opinions about what we like or dislike. A given design installation or wayfinding system will not be pleasing to every single person, and regardless of whether or not everyone can appreciate it equally, design—or, rather, good design—should strive to be more than just layer upon layer of information that fills up our collective spaces. Design can (and should) be both functional and engaging in a way that brings coherence rather than confusion.

How, then, does one go about developing an entire system of environmental graphics that will serve a practical purpose in providing people with the information they need, visually complement the surrounding area and create a sense of place that is site specific? And once we begin to put a system in place, how do we know if it qualifies as “successful” on all fronts?

Despite some of the challenges of weeding out bad design from the good, we can become more discerning about why certain visuals work better than others. As in the case with clearview, there are subtle yet significant differences that average people can detect and appreciate.

The downtown area reflects a variety of aesthetics. But when we take stock of the buildings and landmarks, we can begin to call out some of the strong visual components--such as the red brick or historic architecture--and subsequently make a few judgments about what does or doesn’t define us and the downtown area.

Planting a large “Welcome to Fabulous Goshen, Indiana” neon sign (á la Las Vegas) somewhere alongside the aforementioned Main Street buildings, consequently, would not make sense. Nor would highly stylized art nouveau signage inspired by the Paris Metro structures. An argument could certainly be made in favor of such ideas but questions regarding authenticity and a well-defined sense of place would remain. (Keep in mind that I’m talking about a system of graphics, not individual storefront signage.)

The mismatch between these examples of famous signage and downtown Goshen, Ind., might be too obvious. At the very least, however, they begin to set a reference point for what works and what doesn’t, what helps visually define Goshen and what is simply window-dressing that has no aesthetic connection to existing infrastructure or community ethos.

If we were to envision new wayfinding signs cropping up in the downtown area, what would—or, rather should--they look like? I intend to find out.