Design Review: Draft Hoboken Visual Identity, Wayfinding, and First Street Streetscape

At a public meeting in January 2015, T&M Associates and M Studio presented initial designs for Hoboken’s visual identity and wayfinding systems, and First Street streetscape improvements. A focus group worked with the designers throughout February and early March to refine the design concepts. This past Thursday, the second public meeting was held to present the 50% construction documents and design plans, which incorporate input from the public and focus group.

Hooken Visual Identity

The visual identity system builds on two of the most recognizable informal identifiers for Hoboken: The “H” seen in the PATH Station and on rail trestles, and the moniker “Mile Square City”. Each has wonderfully unique characteristics. The angled spikes of the “H” are both a throwback to the days when the region’s economy was first being built on the backbone of rail transit, and a nod to the city’s current resurgence and growth based on its proximity and easy access to Manhattan by rail. “Mile Square City” is both a descriptor of the city’s size, and a reference to its compact, walkable urban character.

In the new draft visual identity system, these two well-known icons become the city’s official logo and tagline, along with a set of consistent, thoughtfully-designed branding elements and tools, including maps, kiosks, directional blades for intersections, a color palette, and a font family.

A good visual identity system is much more than a logo, and the development of Hoboken’s identity system around the “H” is similar in concept to the new visual identity developed for Amsterdam based on its existing, iconic St. Andrew’s Crosses. The aim of the Amsterdam project was to build an identity system that could unify dozens of variations created by neighborhoods and municipal entities within the city. Edo van Dijk, co-founder and creative director of edenspiekermann, wrote an insightful explanation titled “It’s not the logo”, which shows how the firm developed a single identity system, built around the iconic crosses, but with consistent grids, guides, visual assets, and applications for digital and printed material, signage, uniforms, and city vehicles.

The city of Hoboken is looking for constructive input on these design drafts. For example, the logo is presented on page 1, above, with three background variants: the “H” by itself, “H” on an oval background, and “H” on a diamond background. The diamond shape is perhaps notable for evoking a connection to a baseball diamond, but the application on a wayfinding kiosk (middle of page 2) appears busy, and less distinctive, than the “H” by itself. The diamond shape of the gateway signs (top of page 2), however, is quite distinctive. So perhaps the best choice for the final design is the “H” with no set background, so that it can be applied to a variety of shapes, such as the diamond-shaped signs.

The concepts are also shown with two variants of the “Hoboken” word mark: one with the lettering on a notched banner, and another with the lettering surrounded by bars above and below. The notched banner appears to be a stronger visual element than the text between bars, but it could be limiting if the logo lockup is intended to accommodate city agency names. For example, the Amsterdam visual identity does not place the city name on a graphic background. The logo lockup for sub-brands puts the city name to the right of the logo mark (instead of below it), then places the sub-brand below the city name.

Gemeente Amsterdam logo with subbrands

On city vehicles, the logo mark is displayed by itself on the hood, with no wordmark, while the full lockup is displayed on the sides.

Gemeente Amsterdam branding applied to city vehicle fleet

The designs will undergo further refinement over the next few weeks to address these types of applications and further define guidelines for usage.

The design teams also presented an update on the streetscape plans, which call for curb extensions, street trees, pavement markings to increase safety for pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers, streetscape elements and furniture, and rain gardens to absorb stormwater. Capital New York reports that similar rain gardens, or bioswales, in New York City are performing above expectations. In a pilot program, the bioswales were introduced to three neighborhoods where sewers drain into a single pipe, and each bioswale .

The standard for effective bioswales is capturing the first inch of rain over 10 percent of the city’s impermeable surface—the roads, roofs and concrete that account for about two-thirds of the city landscape.

The swales piloted by D.E.P. captured an inch of rain over 14 percent of the surfaces, the agency reports. Engineers and researchers at the D.E.P. say that when deployed over a wider swath of the city, the bioswales could have a noticeable impact.

Stormwater management is a major priority for Hoboken, and the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) recently designated Hoboken a Role Model City for flood risk management, in recognition of efforts like the city’s second flood pump; the ‘Resist, Delay, Store, Discharge’ coastal defense strategy that won a $230M Rebuild by Design federal grant; the design for Hoboken Cove Boathouse, the first phase of a ‘park as defense’ against flooding; the city’s plan to provide open space and flood mitigation through a new Southwest Park; and the First Street Streetscape plans. Final designs will be presented in May, and construction is expected to begin this Summer.

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