For Ida Mynhardt, being a project manager at K&i Creative Agency isn’t just about keeping the administrative cogs turning. While some of her daily tasks include client liaison and monitoring the progress of multidisciplinary projects, she also plays a key role in the creative processes. One such aspect of specialising in branding and visual communication is spatial problem solving more commonly known as wayfinding.
If well executed, signposting and route designing to make built environments navigable by the public is an aspect of urban planning that frequently goes unnoticed. Often unapparent to the general public is the sophisticated design strategy that requires an understanding of human psychology and the constraints presented by the physical space. Responsible for the wayfinding and signage of the V&A Watershed, Ida provides some insights into this specialisation as well as her daily experiences of working in a creative agency.
K&i was founded five years ago. What’s the history behind the name and what led you to open your own creative agency?
K&i is a husband and wife team, with it’s name derived from our first names, Karl and Ida. We had been living and working in London for almost 10 years when we started talking about working for ourselves. We wanted to do something different, original and authentic. And we wanted to work together, so in 2010 we moved to South Africa and started the agency.
How would you describe the agency’s overriding philosophy?
Our philosophy is to deliver professional, high quality, original, engaging, and creative designs for our clients. We do so by; using our heads (we think a lot), working with nice and intelligent people, having a flexible approach, being deadline orientated, and working hard. There’s a great quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln in different versions but the sentiment is the same, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”
Can you share with us some of things you’ve learnt that you weren’t aware of when you started but have made a difference to your current work ethic?
We have learnt a lot over the years and continue to learn everyday. Most things come with time and experience and some of these things have changed the way we work for the better. This is mainly to do with running the business, client relationships (dealing with difficult ones) and learning to trust your instincts. Our biggest lesson we’ve learned is being able to say no. It’s never easy turning someone away but we strongly believe that good work comes from a good relationship – you need respect from both sides and you can generally gauge this early on. Erik Spiekermann says it well, “Don’t work for assholes. Don’t work with assholes”. These days we have a lot more processes in place to keep our business side running smoothly.
What do you enjoy most about the work you do?
The best work always comes when we work closely with our clients; those who know their business and objectives, who share their insights, who trust us to do our job, and who bring us a problem to solve and not just a list of design requirements. This is when the work is most enjoyable, most rewarding, and also most effective.
Together with the creative side, there’s also a lot of administrative work that has to be done. As the project manager, how do you aid the creative process?
Karl and I work closely together on all projects. We are both creative, I come from a fashion and illustration background and Karl, whom I’d like to say is an absolute creative genius (and it’s not because he’s my husband), is cleverly ‘managed’ by my Swedish-schedule-obsessive-list-writing-personality. As a project manager, I do a lot of mundane tasks; collating information, time management and client liaising but I also work with Karl during the conceptual stages and on any illustration we do in-house.
K&i designed the signage and wayfinding for the Waterfront’s Watershed. What are the basic design principles for making spaces easily navigable?
It’s important to take the space and building into consideration. To make a space easily navigable in terms of wayfinding and signage there are a few things we would consider such as line of sight, decision-making points and how the building or area is used. Location and orientation is critical. For the Watershed, we produced a set of isometric floor maps located at key decision making points – supported by the use of easy to understand iconography. A structured graphic language was developed so all is read, seen and identified as a cohesive navigational system.
This project was in collaboration with Wolff architects. How did the process work?
Wolff Architects designed the Watershed building and the V&A appointed them to do the wayfinding and signage. Having worked with Wolff on several projects before, including materials for the building prior to it being built, we already had a good understanding of the space so they approached us to collaborate with them. We collaborated on almost all aspects of the project but some tasks were more geared toward their expertise and others ours. For example, the signage directory, exact locations, building sizes, architectural drawings and signage materiality was handled by the Wolff team, whereas, the graphic language, visual tone of voice and design of the signage manual was our responsibility. There was a constant cross-over in all these regards with several on-site meetings, office meetings and a great deal of telephone calls. Open dialogue had a huge part to play in the success of the signage functioning. Working with the Wolff team is always a pleasure; it’s not about just getting the job done, it’s about finding the best solutions through collaboration, exploring and understanding. We have the highest respect for their meticulous team and the work that they do.
The Watershed has won numerous awards for innovation. What were some of the challenges presented by the project?
One of our goals was not to detract from the buildings beauty but compliment it with good signage that worked seamlessly within the building itself. The Watershed is a very busy place; the ground floor is designed around the idea of a market place with a large ‘street’ walkway down the centre of the building with adjoining streets to the sides. Some of the challenges were to make sure the signage is visible and stands out in this environment. We had to make sure the wayfinding is simple to understand. The Waterfront has many non-English visitors so it was important to create an internationally inclusive design. A point raised time and time again was the toilets – the toilets are strategically placed on level one and our job was to ensure people could find them. We did early on-site tests with mockups and had just put some cardboard signs up when a German couple walked passed and immediately saw the signs and found their way! You could feel their relief as well as ours that the signage was doing its job. The Watershed comprises of four key components, it has the Craft and Design market, the Wellness Centre, Jubilee Exhibition Hall and Workshop 17, a co-working space. A hierarchy of signage was created; primary, secondary and tertiary to accommodate for all the building’s needs.
The primary colours – blue and yellow – feature prominently. How do these colours affect the environment?
The colour was taken from the already established Watershed brand guidelines so there was no deviating from this. We embraced the identity colours and used them to our advantage creating a strong, and again, cohesive visual language.
Cape Town won Design Capital and was hailed in The New York Times’ as the top destination in 2014. What impact does wayfinding have on a city and its inhabitants?
Wayfinding is in some ways the closest to what we everyday citizens get to see as the “face” of a city. It touches, guides, directs and interacts with its inhabitants on their everyday journeys. A well-thought-out and good looking wayfinding system tells us that this city is cared for and when done correctly makes one feel inclusive when visiting new places.
How specialized is wayfinding design in South Africa and what are some of the skills needed to pursue a career in the field?
South Africa has produced some of the best designers in the world and we’re creating more everyday. We’ve grown rapidly to an international standard – just have a look on Behance to see how many international corporates are looking to our shores to use our talent. I don’t think all of it has to do with the exchange rate. That being said, I still think there is room for growth and the teams that specialize in wayfinding are far fewer than those specializing in illustration for example. Our advice to anyone aspiring to work in a creative field is to work hard, be a nice person and believe in yourself.
What other exciting projects is K&i busy working on?
We’ve just finalized an identity and website for a camping company called Hey Pioneer (with beautiful photos by Lion and the Lady), wrapping up a selection of reports for Unicef, and we’re busy working on some very creative packaging for a cold brew coffee called Twelve Royal. In the new year we will be launching a co-working space of our own called Studio Smörgåsbord in Muizenberg! We’re looking forward to 2016 and hope it’s a great year for everyone.