Designing Park Sign Systems

Park SignsDesign Process for Park Signs

A good system of park signs performs many functions. It should give effective information and directions so that people can find their way around the park, encourage learning, maintain the park's image and also easily communicate the park's rules.

Ideally signs should meet specific needs and target certain areas but be kept to a minimum in the park overall. Well-designed signs can provide a sense of local pride by incorporating local branding and history of the site in their design.

Get Purposeful

First, decide on your goals. What is the purpose of the signage system you are working on? What is it going to do, what sort of information will it display, and who is that information aimed at?

Next, check the existing signs in the park. Starting from scratch is rarely a good idea - instead try to build upon what is there already by keeping what is working well and improving on everything else. If you use existing elements you can rapidly build user familiarity with the new signage system and what it means.

Surveying the existing sign system includes a variety of tasks such as reviewing standards and guidelines, conducting evaluation studies, interviewing staff and visitors, checking the condition of existing signs and how they relate to local areas and conditions, and even checking incident and accident reports to see where additional special signing might be needed.

Needs and Places

You also need to understand the issues, trouble spots and perceived decision points which occur along visitor paths into and around the park. To do this, talk to visitors about the parts of the park they had trouble locating, the image of park, and any difficulties they might have using it. Be sure to observe different types of visitors (for example the elderly, children, families, the less able) to get a good idea of how people enter the park and move through it.

Don't forget to take the needs of special groups into account, such as children in prams, wheelchair users or those who travel through the park by bicycle. Talk to staff to see if they have noticed regular visitor information problems. These could include staff-visitor conflicts (things visitors would like to do which conflict with maintenance or other goals), conflicts between different visitor types, any vandalism, recurring questions, sponsored activities and the need park staff have for their own information. It can be useful to circle these "hot areas" on a map of the park so it is clear where they are.

History and Audience

Try to identify unique things about the history of the park site. Which aspects will give a sense of place and local pride, or encourage learning about the location? Once you have this in place you can outline some general guidelines for the entire information system; signage goals, visitor audiences and message tone or manner. You can use this to develop a master plan for the overall park information system, including signs which contain information, directions or identification of individual places within the park. This will lay out the types of signs needed as well as the text and symbols for the signs.

Now you should be able to organise and prioritise the needed information into groups of signs by type. This means you can develop text and symbols for the new signs as well as revise those on existing signs if needed. Don't forget to include the history of the park into the presentation of the signs, and include messages for special user groups like cyclists or the physically handicapped. You should have a list of messages for all sign types; directional and waymarking signs, information both regulatory and interpretive, and identification.

Test and Experiment

Finally, before moving to actual manufacture, you should test, experiment and evaluate the effect of the signage system using temporary signs or mobile displays. See if the sign types are effective, and experiment with how messages are phrased, the design of the signs, and where they are located. This will help make the system more effective. Evaluate the system based on the goals and purposes you drew up initially by talking to visitors about their experiences with the temporary signage as well as how information is phrased, designed and located.

Once you are happy with everything, you can move on to manufacture of permanent signs and installation in your park.

If the above process seems too complex or painful, consider outsourcing to a signage specialist such as Fitzpatrick Woolmer, so you can benefit from the design abilities and years of experience of experts in this field. Visit their site at www.fwdp.co.uk.

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