The word "Kansas" often recalls images of the Wizard of Oz, prairies, fields and flatland. While some areas of Kansas are indeed flat, there is more to the state than meets the eye; one prime example of Kansas' diverse and compelling landscapes is its 26 state parks.
These parks celebrate a state rich with dramatic scenery and a multitude of outdoor adventures. In 2015, the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism engaged RDG Planning & Design to analyze state park signage and branding and establish a marketing and strategy plan to identify and promote the parks and their unique amenities. RDG set out to tell the story and give identity to each park, relay a bigger message of the state park system and share the surprising and unknown adventures the parks have to offer. Though much has changed in the years since the project began, the branded system remains an integral part of the parks and serves as an example of how a coordinated park graphic system can help attract users, promote engagement and encourage people to come back year after year.
RDG’s design for the Kansas State Parks signage guidelines offers a system of entrance and wayfinding signs and customized visual identities for each of the state parks in Kansas. In total, 28 separate identities were established, celebrating the unique landscape of each park. When we first began the process, it was clear that the existing branding and message of the parks did not correctly depict the parks’ amenities and features. For example, Fall River Park was shown as having a large waterfall and a place to hike when in fact, the park has a lake with cabins and camping sites and is also one of the best places in eastern Kansas to stargaze. As such, there was a disconnect between the park’s name and its existing branding versus what the park offers.
RDG developed a toolkit for each park and laid out signage standards and guidelines to create consistency across the entire park system. The toolkit is a living document that can be implemented as each park changes and grows. Much thought went into the placement and implementation of signs: location and orientation, cone of vision, size of text, speed limit, amount of text, color palate and materiality of the signs. Now implemented, the system establishes the identity, images, graphics and branding used on apparel, merchandise, postcards, marketing material and any literature to convey the message and story of each park – inciting excitement, curiosity and joy to those far and wide.
The rebrand of Kansas State Parks sought to establish an identity for each park and create an overall brand for the parks system that would all for easy identification and instill in visitors a sense of welcome and belonging. Working with park staff and leaders, the RDG team sought to understand what was currently working and what could improve. Designers researched historical data and visited each park and, taking all the information gathered from these experiences into consideration as well as each park’s unique set of amenities, set out to develop a set of visual identities for each park. The resulting designs encompass imagery, branding and signage for the park regions and establish unity and consistency that had previously been missing in the parks system across the state.
Designed with each region’s individuality in mind, stone native to each region (sandstone, limestone, etc.) was used to save on transportation cost, allowing each park to construct needed signage with skilled labor, and to honor the landscape, history, and nature of the area.