DESC Wayfinding

Service Design

The Downtown Emergency Service Center (DESC) provides shelter, job-seeking assistance, mental health services, and case management to a vulnerable segment of Seattle’s homeless population — those with severe, chronic mental and addictive illnesses. As a graduate cohort of designers, we worked with DESC to devise solutions that would improve flow and maximize resources. After a series of observations, a smaller group of us focused our efforts on designing effective wayfinding that would improve interactions between clients and staff.


Notes from DESC observations

DESC offers different services from four locations around 3rd and James, and we conducted observations at all four sites. As we analyzed our findings, we made several conclusions that led us to consider wayfinding as a possible target:

Signage System

Sketch of DESC signs seen from the street
Final sign in window
All four signs in different colors

Sketch by Sarah Reitz. Final rendering by Scott Tsukamaki.

Any signs we created would need to meet a number of unique requirements.

The end result is a sign system that facilitates a certain kind of verbal referral: “Head to the door with the red 515.” The signage designs were the simplest and most direct possible, with no reference to DESC or the services inside. We tested them using paper printouts to determine the right size for visibility from the street.

Map Design

Map of DESC with colored flags to indicate facilities

Finally, to facilitate better referral moments, we designed a map for placement at each location. The colors and numbers would match the signage seen outside, and staff would be able to use it as a visual aid when referring clients from location to location.

This is a portion of a larger project done in collaboration with Scott Tsukamaki, Sarah Reitz, Richelle Dumond, Mae Boettcher, and Julie Sutherland.

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