June 13, 2022 Graphic Design Students are Lighting the Way(finding) for the Tennessee RiverLine

renderings of types of signs

Graphic Design students in Assoc. Prof. Emerita Deb Shmerler’s spring 2022 studio devised a system of wayfinding markers and informational signage that will promote the use, accessibility and stewardship of North America’s next great regional trail system, the Tennessee RiverLine.

Shmerler’s studio was a creative problem-solving and strategic branding class that explored systems design. The studio hoped to gain a better understanding of users’ perceptions of the landscape’s natural and cultural significance and the navigation along the 652 miles of the Tennessee River.

“The main goal of the Tennessee RiverLine Investigations class was to design a system of signs and markers to help river users safely navigate and access the Tennessee River,” said Shmerler. “People use the river for different reasons and for varying lengths of time, so the students took into consideration the needs of several different types of users, from beginning paddlers to those with more adventurous multi-day trips in mind. The students spoke with ‘652 milers’ (individuals who have paddled the entire length of the river), and all had been on the river themselves.”

In February, the students went on a four-day tour of the river, visiting unique locations such as the Wheeler Wildlife Refuge to view bird migrations; the Chattanooga Aquarium to see the river’s aquatic life and endangered species up close; Shiloh National Park to analyze the history of the Civil War along the river; and the Kentucky Dam to learn how Tennessee Valley Authority operates. The trip’s purpose helped the students have a better understanding of the Tennessee River as it moves through varied landscapes and geographies and appreciate the natural and cultural significance of the river.

Additionally, the students met with several leaders in the Tennessee RiverLine’s Tennessee RiverTowns Program, visited a large sign fabricator in Knoxville to learn more about materials and spoke with representatives from the U.S. Coast Guard about the organization’s extensive navigation system.

During the design phase of the studio, students considered how to best integrate what they learned into a coherent wayfinding system that includes recommendations for orientation, identification and directional and interpretive signage.

“This studio proved to be more than just a wayfinding course. The power of community and the richness of the Tennessee River—culturally and ecologically—were central topics to this class,” said Allie Torres-Lopez, who graduated in May. “We explored the best creative solution to developing an inclusive experience for everyone to partake in such a natural wonder.”

The Tennessee RiverLine is a vision for a 652-mile continuous, multi-modal system of trail experiences along the Tennessee River from Knoxville, TN, to Paducah, KY. The Tennessee RiverLine originated in the UT School of Landscape Architecture, which is a partnership of the UT College of Architecture and Design and the Herbert College of Agriculture, and is supported by principal partners, UT Knoxville and Tennessee Valley Authority, in collaboration with the Tennessee RiverLine Partnership.

diagram of signage placements along the river