Dispatch from Down Under

September 29, 2022


It’s an exciting time for Entro, with steady growth of the last several years. We now have over 80 people in offices in Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver, New York, and Sydney. Here, Jan Ashdown of Entro Sydney discusses what it means to practice experiential design in Australia.

How did the Entro Sydney office get started?
Earlier in my career, I was working at an Australian signage design company – this was before wayfinding and experiential design became the broader, strategy-based discipline it is now. That’s where I met Andrew Kuzyk, prior to his founding of Entro. I travelled to Canada for a period of several months to help with a large project and worked with Andrew – we worked so hard, laughed a lot, and kept in touch over the years. Andrew and Wayne McCutcheon reached out to me when Entro was looking for opportunities to grow internationally; they thought it would be an exciting business opportunity, and they were right! We’ve been up and running for three years (on October 16th). We’re very much part of the larger Entro team on the day-to-day; the whole relationship is built on much trust and support from the global team.

What’s happening in the Entro Sydney office these days?
We have a great team of talented design managers and designers who work closely together feeling connected and energised about the work. We were proud to complete the visitor journey program for the Australian Museum – it was a very tight timeline, but challenging and rewarding at the same time. We’re also working on a number of other exciting projects, including Western Sydney Airport, the Heffron Centre, State Library of NSW, the Redevelopment of Concord Oval, Rugby Victoria, and Dandenong Aquatic and Wellbeing Centre.

What’s special about practicing in Australia?
As an island nation, I think Australians have a need to connect internationally in terms of reach and influence. Because of this we produce internationally renowned design – across all disciplines. With that said, we also love to connect to the uniqueness of this place – the light is different (photographers often come here to capture it), and our landscapes and climate inspire our colour specifications. The colours of the outback, for example, with earthy reds, and of the coast with greens and blues.

How did you get into wayfinding?
I came to this practice from two different perspectives – design and technical. At the beginning of my career, I did engineering design drawing and drafting covering civil, structural, cartography and typography. The experience built a solid foundation for my understanding of materials, industrial design, and fabrication methods which would later come in handy when managing the development of high-quality wayfinding projects. But I don’t hold only this precise, technical perspective. I’m also an artist – a painter, specifically. I paint landscapes, which of course connects me to the environment. When I’m in the landscape I find it hard to pull myself away from the colour, form and sense of a place. I have the need to soak it in, remember it, then take my memories and sketches back to the studio to create larger works.

What is your approach to experiential design and wayfinding?
I believe that close collaboration and team work is crucial to developing an exceptional experiential design project. What I loved about working on the Australian Museum project was that the client team, the architect, and the fabricator worked together so closely – we were one team with a common goal. That strength of the team and true collaboration – that’s where the magic happens, through open discussion, layers of team annotations on documents and brainstorming.

When designing, it’s about the user experience first and foremost; the aesthetic is secondary. This approach is about empathy – I draw from my painting experience to work with designers, encouraging them to focus less on aesthetics at the outset, and instead to drill down into their heart, their feelings, and their experiences, and to ask how the project environment inspires them in this way. I think it’s important to get hands on paper during this process – it doesn’t matter if you don’t draw, just try to bring the feeling through in scribbles if you like. Then you can pick up on what people need, and be sensitive to whether the wayfinding needs to sit back to give way to the environment, whether it be books, art, or retail products. Wayfinding helps people navigate and access what they need. It’s not about signs. It’s about the overall experience. I bring care and passion to our projects and the outcome can be felt by the users. This kind of empathy also informs my relationships with clients and my team – which is all based on trust.