There have been a succession of directors at the Carriageworks since it opened in 2007. At the helm of it’s current incarnation is Lisa Havilah, formerly of the Campbelltown Arts Centre, who has a reputation for “innovative programming and community relevancy” according to Art Collector. She talked frankly about the pros and cons of the signage at Carriageworks in this refreshingly succinct interview. Enjoy.

DD: What are some of the positives and negatives of the signage here at the Carriageworks?

LH: Carriageworks has changed over time. When it first opened it was considered a performing arts centre and now it is very much a multi-arts centre. The purpose of the building has changed and it’s shifted as an organisation. The signage was designed for the organisation as it was at apoint in time. I think that the most difficult thing about signage generally is that it doesn’t move through time as easily as buildings can move through time. I think that is the biggest challenge for signage. At Carriageworksit is quite difficult because the building has such a strong aesthetic and integrity. So it is hard for anything you put up against it to compete or integrate because of the scale of the building.
The sign when you first walk down the stairs on the glass works really well. It brands the building – people say “where is Carriageworks?”, “oh – there is Carriageworks” – because it says carriageworks.

The sign on Wilson Street (large entrance structure) was a great idea but it is impractical for an arts organisation of our scale because we can’t afford to rotate that scaleof signage. We had to pull the existing signage down because it was out of date and didn’t fit our new brand. The problem is that we now can’t afford to put up new signage. When architects are designing buildings it needs to be taken into account that signage needs to change all the time. Sometimes people think that signage should stay forever. I think it is better to have systems for being able to change it instead of setting things in concrete. This helps buildings move through time more easily.

The other challenge with Carriageworks is that we are within a precinct and we don’t have control of the brand or signage across the precinct. So when you arrive at Carriageworks there is a sign that says “Eveleigh Markets” which confuses people.

DD: Who does have control over the precinct?

LH: Sydney Metropolitan Development Authority manage the North Eveleigh Precinct. They are going through a process of rebranding the site including reconsidering the name of the site. We’ll be part of that process. There are always hierarchies of place – we are in Sydney, then we are in Redfern, then we are in North Eveleigh (or some might say Darlington), and then we are in Carriageworks. And when I came here all of the indicators on business cards etc. our postal address was Newtown. So we had to change that to identify that we were actually in Redfern because that was accurate. It’s wallet signage in a way because it is marking where you are. So we were in Newtown, North Eveleigh and Redfern.

DD: So in terms of the lack of signage out the front of the building – if a person came from Melbourne, for example, who had never been to Sydney before and was looking for the Carriageworks…?

LH: They wouldn’t be able to find it.

DD: So do you have plans to put new signage on the Wilson Street frontage?

LH: Yes, we are about to implement a new signage strategy that will also include directional signage from Redfern Station.

DD: There used to be a large graphic on the glass that was taken down after one of the windows got broken. Was it too difficult to replace or was that more of an aesthetic decision?

LH: It wasn’t deliberate decision. The glass got broken and then we decided to take down the graphic. Then when we took down the graphic and people could see into the building, the response was overwhelming. Everybody loves it. It connects the inside to the outside. People used to walk up to the building and say “what’s in there? I can’t see in”. But now you can actually see what’s inside. Our visitation has doubled in the last 6 months and I think that is a contributing factor because people can see what is happening inside the building it is much less intimidating

The architect’s opinion was that the decal was important to the interpretation of the building because it showed the graphic of the old tracks. I don’t necessarily agree with that because I think that the way that the building has been designed, the integrity of what it used to be is completely inherent in all of the design. I also think that the orange colour holds the building at a particular point in time. We are thinking of removing the orange graphics that went with the old brand identity.

DD: What other difficulties have you had with the signage on a practical level?

LH: Our biggest problem was we never had a central information point in the building and that is why we put a new visitor services desk in. There wasn’ a direct line of sight to the box office when entering. Visitors would walk in and say “where do I go?.” Now when you walk in there is a person that can talk to you and give you directions. For the first 5 years it operated without any customer service. I think people, as much as signage, are important as information points.

DD: That is one view that has been consistent in most of the theatres I have visited. That there is a certain amount to do with signage but there is a certain amount to do with people and systems of face-to-face contact.

LH: That’s right. And as part of us shifting from being a theatre to being a multi-arts centre we now have standardised opening hours everyday from 10am til 6pm. Between those hours somebody will be there to give you information about the Carriageworks. That has negated a lot of the issues of turning up at the Cariageworks, going to doors and not being able to open them, not understanding what is happening anywhere because there is someone to give you that information.

DD: Is it costly?

LH: Absolutely, but a very important investment.

DD: Do you use much of the changeable signage that was added recently.

LH: I don’t like the aesthetic of the signs but they work well because what used to happen was that people just used to blu tac signs onto walls and that doesn’t happen anymore. So this system has improved our standard of presentation. It’s not so much the sign but how you deal with temporary information. That’s probably the best way at the moment because you can just photocopy and it’s cheap and you can put it in there and it can be standardised and I haven’t thought of a way we can do that better.

DD: When you have a show on do people find the theatre’s easily?

LH: Yes, because there is someone to tell them where to go. I don’t think they look at the signs but I don’t know….

One of the things we are in conversation with external partners is that in the marketing material, they want to name the event and the exact location “Carriageworks: Bay 17”. I am strongly arguing against that because to add that extra level of detail is confusing. People just need to know to come to Carriageworks and navigate once they get here. I think the message should be come to Carriageworks and we will look after you.

DD: What about the office identification signs?

LH: Everyone loves these, they are very popular. Because they are immediately clear – you can look at them and know where you are going.

DD: If someone gave you a $100,000 signage budget right now what would you do with it?

LH: My first priority would be working out the signage on Wilson Street because we need to have a presence on that street so people know where to go.

The other thing that we are trying to do is to change the purpose of the public spaces. We don’t call them foyers anymore. We are trying to give that space its own integrity. Because people have just treated it like a foyer, putting on layers and layers of signage. We treating it like a cultural space. To do that we have had to remove layers of information as well as well as layers of objects.