Graphic Design Program Chair Wins GDUSA Award

Red Rock Trail System by Robert Finkel

Program Chair Robert Finkel was recently honored as a 2022 American Graphic Design Award Winner by Graphic Design USA (GDUSA).

Finkel was honored for his work on the Red Rock Trail System, a network of trails, parks, walkways and bike paths in Jefferson County, Alabama. In addition to chairing the Graphic Design program, Finkel is an associate professor in Auburn’s School of Industrial and Graphic Design (SIGD).

The Red Rock Trail System is made up of seven different corridors that follow the waterways around the city of Birmingham. The system was created by the Freshwater Land Trust, a non-profit that conserves and connects land and water in central Alabama and creates opportunities for outdoor recreation. As of the fall of 2022, the trails span 127 miles and development on new trails is ongoing.

Finkel’s contributions to the project included developing strategic messaging and brand identity for the trail system through the creation of a wayfinding signage program and brand identity guidelines. He began by getting input from the trail’s Board of Directors and then used this information as a basis for brand strategy and visual identity development, including color palette, typographic system, copywriting strategies and logos. All of this information was then wrapped up into a manual of standards and guidelines for Red Rock Trail System and Freshwater Land Trust staff to use.

The trail system is made up of seven different corridors, so Finkel created a logo for each that featured a representation of a unique natural or cultural aspect of the trails. For example, the Cahaba River corridor features a Cahaba Lily, the Five Mile Creek corridor features reeds and the Jones Valley corridor features a locomotive. Finkel designed map kiosks to be used at major trailheads, blade signs to be placed along shorter trails and interpretive signs for significant landmarks. He also created smaller trail blaze signs for trees or posts that keep hikers on the right path.

“I liked working on a project that enhances the greater Birmingham community and promotes health and wellness for everyone,” Finkel stated. “I also enjoy the complexity of the problem in trying to develop a design system that is flexible, adaptable and long lasting.”

The project’s architects were Carlos Hernandez and Cynthia Cole, both of whom are architects at ArchitectureWorks as well as graduates of Auburn’s School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture (APLA). “Robert did a great job with really understanding the different families of trails,” Hernandez stated. “He designed a branding system that lets each of them shine individually while still being instantly recognizable as part of the greater Red Rock Trail System.”

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Robert Finkel