The National Theatre2012-2015Architectural signage

Jake Tilson worked alongside the architects Haworth Tompkins to produce architectural signage for the National Theatre between 2012 and 2015. He spent as much time digging in the NT archives as he did prototyping letters as a major focus of the work was to reintroduce some of the signage ideas devised by Ken Briggs in the 1970s. Fortunately in the archive he found a few cardboard boxes full of steel lettering that had been stripped off the concrete interiors in the 1990s. He photographed, measured and examined them, as well as photographs, contractors correspondence, architects plans and the few remaining pieces of original signage found here and there at the National itself.

The typeface used was Serifa, designed by Frutiger, for which Tilson found a suitable digital version. He had noticed that Briggs used a different ampersand (&) so Tilson suggested doing the same for the new signage. One of the reasons the stainless steel letters had been taken down was poor legibility so other materials and finishes were tested for inside and outside the building.

It was also important for Jake to decide what typography "not" to design, a line needed to be drawn. The brief he gave himself was to only design signs that knitted with the structure of the building and seemed to eminent from the architecture itself, rather than typography that deals with current and future branding.

This led to wayfinding, place naming, theatre names, door signage, toilet icons, and the large external entrance signs.

A wonderful vast project.
The National Theatre signage project is as much about stewardship as about design. It's not a piece of conservation, it's more about preserving visual spirit. So I'm often thinking about the original NT graphic designer Ken Briggs.
Jake Tilson