Visual communication design class plays role in zero-waste initiative at IU Natatorium

By Rich Schneider, IU Communications Specialist:

The Indiana University Natatorium will make sustainability history June 18 when it begins operating as a zero-waste athletic facility for the 2016 Olympic Diving Trials.

It  will be the first athletic facility in Indiana to achieve zero-waste goals and the first host of an Olympic event to have a zero-waste designation.

Zero Waste infographicBeing a zero-waste venue means that by weight, 90 percent of all waste must be recycled or composted. Only 10 percent may be disposed of as trash. In a typical trash can , about 75 percent of what has been thrown away is recyclable, while another 20 to 25 percent is compostable.

A number of athletic facilities, particularly at the collegiate level, have tried to reach zero waste, but many have fallen short. But staff at the IU Natatorium and the Office of Sustainability at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis are confident the initiative will succeed.

That confidence springs, in part, from the work done by a Herron School of Art and Design visual communication design class.

Led by assistant professor Pamela Napier, the students were asked, among other things, to design signage that would guide athletes, fans and others to use not only trash and recycle bins, but a third kind of bin that was added for the zero-waste initiative: compost bins.

The project was a natural fit for Napier’s class, which emphasizes community-engaged service learning for students.

“I am always looking for community partners, people who have a problem they need help with, and that gives my students real-world experience,” Napier said.

The students’ efforts began with intense research, including field research in which one student team went to the Indianapolis International Airport to watch people as they used trash and recycling stations to understand their habits and behaviors, Napier said.

“One of the things we’re really trying to instill in the students in our program is using people-centered design, which focuses on the active inclusion of users and stakeholders throughout the design process,” she said. “Rather than the students making assumptions, like “we need to have all visuals on the signage,” they engaged in a lot of generative and evaluative feedback to make sure what they were creating was appropriate.”

“One of the interesting things the students found was that there is a split second to capture people’s attention when they are standing at a trash or recycle station and thinking ‘what do I do with this?'” Napier said.

“The students’ challenge for the signage was to determine the best use of text versus visuals, whether the visual should be an image or an icon, and so on. I think they overcame that challenge and increased their understanding of what would be the best approach to increase people’s ability to make an appropriate decision,” Napier said.

The students engaged in extensive testing, such as trying variations of size and placement of signage and considering the general eye height of people as they approach the bins.

Menu developed for the zero waste initiative

Menu developed for the zero waste initiative.

Students in Napier’s class were divided into five teams, three of which worked on the zero-waste initiative. One focused on signage, another on developing ways to communicate the initiative through menus at the IU Natatorium, and the third on creating an educational display about the natatorium and its recently completed $20 million renovation.

“The three teams worked closely to make sure that every element and every piece of language and information they used was consistent and cohesive,” Napier said.

When people look at a menu, for example, they will see an icon of a hamburger on the menu, and that icon is the color of the compost bin, Napier said. The wrapping the hamburger comes in will be the color of the recycle bin.

“The color correlations help people make an immediate connection when they order their food, and they receive additional instructions when they get to the bins,” she explained.

It’s a very strategic process the students go through, Napier said, to ensure they are as clear as possible in their visual communication and are considering people’s natural behaviors and habits.

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