Designing the DOT Garden Sign: Materials and Mentors

It was April 16th when I first met Noel Chilton, my mentor while designing the DOT Garden Sign. Noel works for the Natural History Museum as an illustrator and designer. She was eager to work with me to come up with the design, materials, and plan for the DOT garden.

Our first meeting was at the DOT Garden site with Ms. Beamish, discussing our goals for the garden and how they interact with our goals for the sign. We watched a student working in the garden as we learned how the garden would interact with the community. We learned that it would provide food for the community and use the compost that our school produces. We wanted the sign to be representative of the openness and friendliness of the garden, as well as its purpose as a teaching garden. We wanted it to be big and visible from the road. Furthermore, we wanted it to be sturdy and last many years without degrading. Ms. Beamish requested that the material be environmentally friendly, to truly represent the goals of the garden. After establishing our objective, Noel and I sat down to discuss the more nitty gritty aspects of designing a sign: materials, formats, fonts, and designs. After some chatting, we decided that we didn’t really know where to start without knowing what material we were going to use. We finally decided to meet at the Museum of Natural History the next week to look at signage and discuss possibilities.

Before we went to the museum, I made a point to do a bit of my own research. Via google, I looked at other school garden signs. There were a variety of methods used, from strong metal signs to student-made paper signs that fell apart easily. I was most impressed by the signs that looked like they were natural. I was attracted to the creativity of the student made signs and how representative they were of the student garden. This research is what helped me make my final decision about the material of the sign.

The dinosaurs in front of the Natural History Museum
photo by me

The museum was filled with a diversity of sign materials and designs. We looked at each sign backing and front to see how it was mounted to determine if it was sturdy enough to last and environmentally friendly enough to use. We thought about metal, plastic, fused sheets of plastic, wood and other obscure materials.


This was an indoor sign with foam backing
photo by me
This was an example of a poorly crafted sign that was exposed to extreme conditions
photo by me

After we had looked around the museum signs, we made a trip to Guerilla Graphics to look into the possibility of screenprinting a sign. After stating our goals for the DOT garden sign, we learned that it would be unrealistic to screenprint an outdoor sign, as the screenprinting press would be too small and the design would most likely decay under the conditions. It was interesting to learn about how screenprinting can work as an alternative for indoor signs however. For any project, it is valuable to explore all ideas, even if only some of them will work out.


Our consultant at Guerilla Graphics
photo by me

At the end of the day we were inconclusive as to how the sign would be made, but our brains were swarming with ideas. Without a sure direction, we decided it would be best to consult professionals. Noel has connections to the Graphics Department of the Museum of Natural History. We decided we would try to visit their facilities and pick their brains for our next meeting. In the meantime, I would continue to brainstorm design ideas, such as shape, font and graphics.



2 thoughts on “Designing the DOT Garden Sign: Materials and Mentors

  1. I like how you broke up your posts, leaving this one very open ended because that was where you were in your project. I am still left longing for a more concrete statement of what you were looking for though. You mention the aspects you think you want and don’t want, I think it would give the post more substance if you were to list them out in easy to read, separate bullet points so we could more clearly see where your thinking was at this point, because you say that you have somewhat narrowed it down. You say “Noel works for the Natural History Museum as an illustrator and designer,” but I’m left wondering how your excitement and interest in making a sign for the garden began. Could you in a couple sentences talk about your experience and why this interested you?

    • Hi Allison,
      The thing is, when we were going through the signs at the Natural History Museum, we weren’t so sure what we were looking for. We only had two goals for our material: sustainability and durability. The point of the search was to give us more direction in terms of deciding what would be best for our DOT garden.
      My interest in making a sign for the garden goes back to my love of design and graphics. I’m eager to see how my skills can be used in the community, and the DOT garden was a perfect place. Aside from being the graphics editor of our school paper, I hadn’t had much experience with design. That’s why I was so happy to be working Noel, who designs and illustrates professionally.

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