The importance of good design in an aquarium

By Lesley Barker (words and images) / 14 May 2013

I have told most of my friends and family that I work at the Two Oceans Aquarium as a graphic designer, and many of them have asked the same question: “Why does the Aquarium need a graphic designer?”

Initially I used to get annoyed and, depending on what they mean, I still do. But not all of them are being dim. Some were raising a valid point. Is it necessary to have a professional designer doing the Aquarium’s signage, or is it more important to just get the information across by any means? Good question.

It’s a question that I have pondered in the past in relation to many industries. I have even hypothesised that good design, which is the public face of any corporation or campaign, can dictate success or failure.

Directional signage needs to be clear and uncomplicated but must still fit in with the aquarium’s overall theme. Directional signage needs to be clear and uncomplicated but must still fit in with the aquarium’s overall theme.

In our case, the message is often to do with environmental awareness and education, which is important and, in some cases, can also be viewed as controversial. If we hope to be viewed as an authority in the matter, which we definitely should be, our medium needs to be professional. In other words, our signage can’t look like it was an afterthought.

In truth, the content should be more important, but no one takes the message seriously unless it’s portrayed in a manner that suggests the addresser takes it just as seriously as the addressee should. The design of the signage also dictates to the viewer what the content is, even before they’ve started reading it; much the same way that a logo often tells you what a company does just by its design.

Aquarium signage in general tends towards blues and greens; some have bubble-like fonts or seaweed shapes in the background. Waves, fish etc. are prevalent. This may seem repetitive and sometimes it can be, but there’s also no point designing aquarium signage that looks like it belongs in a train station or a clothing store. The signage needs to help visitors immerse themselves in the experience and make the message easier to absorb.

Large poster graphics are great for illustrating large amounts of information in an interesting and easy-to-absorb manner Large poster graphics are great for illustrating large amounts of information in an interesting and easy-to-absorb manner

Visitors will also decide what sort of establishment you run based on visual cues. Is the aquarium clean? Do the animals look well cared for? How clear is the water in the tanks? Are the staff members presentable? Your signage plays a major part in this visual communication. Professional signage reassures the visitor that the aquarium is well managed.

Having a graphic designer on your aquarium team is like having a visual spokesperson who communicates the efforts of the rest of the team to the public using more than just words. Even if aquariums do not employ them full time, seeking the assistance of experienced graphic designers to help with this visual communication is essential and the effect immediately apparent.

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