Hunt Design Associates

By Tk Published on .

Pasadena-based Hunt Design Associates (, an environmental graphics design (EGD) firm, recently celebrated its 25th anniversary, and over the years founder Wayne Hunt has seen it all and more or less done it all - from the comparative frivolity of planting a giant ax in the ground for Universal Studios' Viking Adventure, in Japan, to seriously all-encompassing metro "wayfinding" systems. And the breadth of his projects continues to expand, as the field itself takes on new design challenges. "What we now call environmental graphics began as architectural signing in the 1960s," explains Hunt, who's written two books on his field and who also teaches at Art Center College of Design. "It was really about putting letters on buildings, under the heavy hand of the architect. By the 1980s, it had it evolved into placemaking, where graphics and design media began to shape the places themselves. Now we're into a third phase of EGD - interpretation and storytelling - combining entertainment design with exhibits, museums and interactive learning environments."

Intereactive as some aspects of EGD may be, the digital era has yet to make much of an impact on this discipline, notes Hunt. "The digital revolution has simply made our work easier; I don't think it has changed the work itself much." But, he adds, "the continual expansion of the kinds of projects we do is one of the most interesting things about EGD. Retail, neighborhoods, entire cities, entertainment hybrids - lately we've been working on a new sign system for Kennedy Space Center, and some interesting things for a Ford factory." As a noncommercial example, Hunt points to the Los Angeles Walks (if this is not too flagrant an oxymoron) project; "13 districts, 350 intersections, 200 destinations - the complete signage program for downtown Los Angeles. The biggest challenge is not the design or wayfinding problem solving - it's the daunting approval process." Some things never change. On a similar note, "theme parks and entertainment projects are fun and interesting, but there are very serious behind-the-scenes business issues," Hunt adds. "But we do enjoy assignments where we can have a big effect on the look of a place and the guest experience. You could look at some of this work as 'dimensional branding,' where we use graphics to truly make a place distinct, memorable and understandable.

"Traveling 'blockbuster' exhibits are a big deal for us right now," he continues. "We just opened the Genome show at Smithsonian Institution, the Monster Trucks exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, and the Vatican Exhibit in Houston." Projects seen here include Mala Bay, "a western-style water park in Taiwan with very expressive and fun graphics and signage," says Hunt. "Chicano Now!" is "a dynamic, graphics-driven traveling show," for Clear Channel Entertainment. The Panda Panda project involved "naming, branding, packaging and environmental graphics for an upscale fast food chain for Panda Express." The aforementioned Porto Europa, for Universal Studios, is "an immersive Mediterranean environment" in Japan. The Wichita wayfinding program features "new image and signage for a classic Midwestern downtown." And signage for UCLA turned out to be "a great collaboration with the architect," Hunt believes. "The graphics are a big part of the building, which is a student services facility."

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