CLEAR CLIMB CONCEPT
PERSONAL EXPLORATION PROJECT
8 WEEKS: USER RESEARCH + DESIGN
GOAL: DESIGN A VISUAL SYSTEM TO ASSIST WITH ROUTE GUIDANCE IN ROCK CLIMBING
A PROJECT INSPIRED BY MY OWN EXPERIENCES IN THE SPORT OF ROCK CLIMBING
In a sport where the routes and climbs are arranged by colour, users are being left behind because they are unable to see or safely identify a route to climb. Clear Climb is a signage system focused on replacing the standard colour indicators with highly visible icons for indoor rock climbing environments.
IDENTIFYING THE PROBLEM
For indoor rock climbing, routes are separated by the colour of the rocks and holds. In bouldering, or free climbing, these routes often weave and overlap on the wall.
If a climber is unable to see which holds are intended for use, and where it is safe to climb, they are unable to participate.
While colour blindness or colour vision deficiency affects approximately 5% of the population, I found that colour confusion is still a common issue within many climbing gyms and environments.
To fully understand the specific problems caused by the existing colour system, I collected primary data from many facilities and climbers to effectively establish the user base.
I interviewed 100+ users in varying ages and climbing experiences to find that only 4 users were affected by any form of colour blindness. However, the same interviews identified that 46% of users often had trouble discerning between routes and climbs. Many went on to explain that this was the result of obscured colours, defining three primary problems.
Of these same climbers, 49% climb two or more times a week and identify as advanced rock climbers. Clearly this is a situation effecting a huge percentage of climbers at all stages of experience.
Through my exploration, I found many climbing gyms are attempting to decrease the confusion, with many resorting to the use of disposable systems that still rely on colour indication.
The most common, is coloured wall tape. While some find it can provide a temporary fix, it can still be obscured by the three primary problems of low light, colour proximity, and chalk.
Considering the average climbing gym will reset routes continuously every 2-3 weeks, installation time, and huge amounts of disposable coloured climbing tape is wasted.
Another existing system, one using differently textured rocks and holds, would require the replacement of entire equipment inventories for any existing facilities.
The cost to replace the current hold systems would be valued in thousands for most gyms, meaning complete replacement is not a real financial possibility.
FINDING A SOLUTION
Using what I discovered from interviews and research, I set out to design a system for indication relying on icons in place of the existing colour coded standard. Like most climbing gear, any system would need to be durable, accessible, and easy to change, without altering the existing climbing experience.
The safety of the climber is always the priority, and I designed Clear Climb to remain flush with the wall to ensure the system will not catch on clothes or ropes.
The system is designed to be mounted between the wall and the rock holds by the existing bolt and t-nut system currently used to secure the rocks.
With the difference between rock hold sizes and shapes, I developed two sizes of base plates to anchor the icon signage. The bases, B1 and B2, incorporate rounded edges and a middle tongue that is locked into place when attached by the rock hold. B1 is designed to fit an icon band anchored with normal sized holds, while B2 is designed accommodate an icon band and larger holds, or multiple bands with smaller holds.
Combined with durable stitched canvas bands that are displayed using the tongue system on the bases, they have the 5 route icons screen printed directly onto the fabric, ensuring high visibility through constant use.
Replacing the colour tape system means replacing what the tape would be indicating on a route. For example, route starts are commonly indicated using two lines of tape coming from one or two rock holds. This means a climber uses both hands on that single hold, or one hand on each, to start this route.
In some environments, the route may not allow a climber to 'top out' by climbing onto a ledge or platform above. In these cases, a single line of tape on last hold signifies that the route does not top out and the climber may either climb back down or safely drop below. Designing the B2 base with room for the icon and line bands is essential to replace the current system.
For a route setter, I envisioned a streamlined use cycle. First, the setter identifies which icon will represent the new route. Next they simply slide the corresponding sign bands over the base mounts while still on the ground. Generally using a combination of the two base sizes according to the route they are setting. Finally, they climb and set routes as usual, adding the combined bases and bands before adding the climbing hold. Using the icon and line bands in combination with the two base sizes, they are able to indicate where the route starts, ends, and the guiding route icon.