Urban Signage in Historical Surroundings

Town SignsThis article explores the challenge of designing and implementing signage solutions in historical urban environments. As well as the comparison of complementary signs and perceived clutter, it gives an overview of the difficulties of managing pleasing signage solutions and the balance between too much and too little signage.

Modern Sign Clutter

Amongst those who are keen on the conservation of historic buildings and urban areas, there is a general viewpoint that too many signs clutter the environment and obscure the beauty of preserved structures. Traffic signs are a commonly cited offender, as are advertisements, which conservationists say should be more carefully controlled and sited with proper respect for their context in the surrounding historic environment. Some even go so far as to say that shop fronts in historic districts should be designed and built in a way which respects the local townscape and maintains its uniqueness, rather than simply dropping in standard corporate fronts. Above all, local navigation, mapping and other signage should be designed carefully to complement their surroundings and blend in with the character of the area, resulting in a more immersive experience for visitors, which helps with both tourism income and local pride.

Putting It Into Practice

However, while these principles are quite sound they are much harder to actually implement. Even a cursory study of any historic town centre now and thirty years ago reveals that there has been an astounding proliferation of new signage. Standardised traffic signs are everywhere along with corporate logos which have usually resulted in the loss of original details and more historic signage. Signs are supposed to be primarily messages but the delivery of them seems to produce a great deal of controversy, especially when it comes to placement in a historical setting where aesthetics may be of considerable importance to the local population.

Designing Urban Signage

Despite all this, however, not all urban signage is considered to be offensive to the setting. The most commonly cited offenders are traffic signs, shop signs and advertisement billboards, while historic street name plates, painted advertisements or old-fashioned blue street plaques are welcomed as enhancing the environment. There is also a wide variation in the degrees of signage which are welcomed as historic or just as clutter which obstructs the area. Lots of obsolete or outdated signs may be considered clutter rather than historic because they aren’t old enough or are just placed in an unsuitable location. By comparison, a lack of signage in urban areas, old or new, can lead to visitors feeling that the area is bleak, visually unappealing and lacking in colour or variety. The designs of town signs are thus formed of a careful balance between colour, visual style, lettering, uniqueness of design and being complementary to existing surroundings and historic precedence.

For assistance with urban mapping and sign design which will complement existing surroundings without compromising on quality or aesthetics, consider visiting Fitzpatrick Woolmer at www.fwdp.co.uk for assistance with signage, design and installation placement.

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