Where has all the beautiful signage design gone?
On a stunning Melbourne Saturday morning I was lucky enough to be going for a run around our Botanical Gardens when I was struck by an old, hand painted sign designating a footpath as for ‘Pedestrian Use Only’. The sign was one of the last of its kind; hand painted in a font of the sign writers making, loaded with personality and the spirit of place. You see the sign was a throwback to another time when all municipal signage was not directed by global guidelines for recognition. The elegant, formed iron body of the sign was a far cry from the Local Government regulated, Council budget justified, lowest price Tender wins cut of all-but these few endangered signs. The paintwork was done by hand in a font definitely not specified by global best practice, with no pictogram pulled from the international handbook of standards.
And whilst I understand the politically correct rationale of globally consistent recognition for place and directional signage, and I also understand the demands on Governments to spend their budgets wisely (after all I’m a long time investor in taxes of all manner and rates of all kinds) it dawned on me that we’ve lost a particularly important plot along the way somehow. Place signage whether it be street signs, park signs, informational and wayfinding signs all play a particularly important role in communicating the spirit and personality of a place. Yes they are only one dimension of the picture, but their importance in the scheme of place is very much overlooked. Having sat on judging panels of many brand identity design awards over the years, I can only recall a few well designed signage systems that achieve the critical role of communicating both information/direction and a sense of place.
Unfortunately this is not an issue confined to Melbourne or even Australia. The world is becoming a place with a smaller and smaller reference set of signage standards. Whilst thankfully the directional signage in Shanghai airport is as easy to follow as that at Charles de Gaulle in Paris and Heathrow in London – as it should be – that line of thinking should absolutely not flow-through to the design of every sign in every city like a tsunami of global blanding.
As the world turns and we become truly international, it is evermore important that within this globalization we maintain a sense of individuality – of people and of place.