Spaceagency Design

Spaceagency Design

London, GB


Wayfinding for Dubai Expo 2020


Dubai EXPO 2020 Wayfinding and Signage

On October 1st, 2021 the first World Expo hosted in the Middle East region, Dubai Expo 2020, opened to the public. It will run for 173 days and is expecting 25 million visitors. The first major World Expo since Milan Expo 2015, Expo 2020 will host 192 countries and incorporate the work of architects and designers from around the world.

Starting in 2014, the London-based creative experience agency, Spacegency, were appointed to create the wayfinding and signage strategy and design for the whole of the Expo, including the public realm, parks, entrances, car parks and internal transport. This extensive wayfinding and signage strategy leads visitors seamlessly around the pavilions and through the Expo, providing maps, directions and navigational assistance to help visitors understand and navigate the site. The evolution of the design of the Expo and in turn the wayfinding was a journey in itself, surmounting the challenges of manufacturing and shipping during a global pandemic.

As the first World Expo hosted in the Middle East, it was paramount to the organisers that designs showcase Emirati heritage and culture. Taking a deep dive into cultural traditions and artisanal crafts, Spaceagency’s signage design concept has been inspired by the Unesco-protected Emirati craft of Al Sadu weaving. Al Sadu is a traditional form of weaving practised by Bedouins in rural communities of the UAE. In times past, women would gather in small groups to spin and weave, exchanging news and occasionally reciting poetry. Such gatherings were a means of transmitting traditions: girls learned by watching, and were gradually given tasks to do, such as sorting the wool, before learning the more intricate skills involved. This tradition has been in steep decline since the UAE has rapidly modernised and urbanised.

Based around this weaving concept Spaceagency developed a full suite of signage manifestations that marry local craftsmanship with state-of-the-art technology. Conceived as textile ribbons woven in between vertical ropes as on a standing loom, the signage design merges Middle Eastern decorative arts and Western design philosophy, forming part of a new, regional aesthetic. Through internal backlighting, two distinct personalities, during the day and during the hours of darkness, come to life.

The fabrication of upwards of 3,500 signage elements took place over 20 months, involving 6 fabricators from Dubai to China. Collaborators ranged from local weavers of the Al Ghadeer Crafts Foundation in the United Arab Emirates who produced 7 distinct Al Sadu woven textile patterns and colourways to identify different districts of the Expo, to large manufacturers in China who fabricated 12 metre tall steel frames and shipped these to the Dubai Expo during the Covid pandemic.  

This international / local collaboration has been an ideal opportunity to showcase Emirati traditions on the world stage, now that the Expo has opened to an international visitor base. The collaboration with Al Ghadeer Foundation has supported the weaver’s livelihood and promotes the continuation of this strand of Emirati heritage.

The graphic design for the signage also drew on local knowledge. Following in a long tradition of iconic pictograms designed for World Expos, Spaceagency collaborated with Tinkah, a Dubai-based interdisciplinary design studio, to design bespoke suite of pictograms that merge well-recognized international symbols with calligraphic Arabic letterforms. These unique symbols are used throughout the signage scheme to speak an international visual language to the wide range of visitors at the Expo.

The project has inspired an exchange of knowledge and talents that weaves together the past and future, local and global art and design in a manner that champions the best aspects of internationalism through a recognition of shared human values. The visitor’s journey through the Expo is accompanied by this narrative as they navigate from place to place, celebrating culture, collaboration and innovation.

Spaceagency Project Team: Sarah Manning, Peter Feldmann, Magda Zdrojewski, Carlos Martin, Nicola Lorusso, Aidan Brown, Yasmina Yehia, Junyi Bai, Andy Pham, Becky Kirk, Telli Nourkeyhani, Ryan Szyanyi, Becky Li-Watson, Ivana Petrusevski.

Client: EXPO 2020 Dubai

Location: Dubai, UAE, Completion: Year 2021 

Read more

Status: Built
Location: Dubai, AE
Firm Role: Lead Designer
Additional Credits: Weavers – Al Ghadeer Foundation

Public Realm Design Direction – Asif Khan Studio

Urban Planning & Public Realm - Aecom

Fabricators – Pico, LPFlex, Pro-Lab, Unigraf, Signworks, Reptronics

Pictograms – Spaceagency / Tinkah