Let Them Know Where To Go

5. Use signage to create the visitor’s experience. Parks are like people–they may come from the same species, but they differ greatly in personalities. Truly strategic signage will honor the pre-set standards but provide additional information to create a memorable visitor experience. Interpretive signage options vary widely but have some common denominators–they inform people and draw them into the natural world. For example, if a park is known for its spectacular flower gardens, signage ought to map out those areas, and provide drawings or pictures, names and information about the various flowers and plants. More rugged parks with nature trails should provide information on wildlife, animal tracks, indigenous trees and bushes, and navigation maps with the distances of various hikes. Finally, many parks are rife with history, perhaps with an old, renovated building of a dairy or barn, or a historic home that’s now a museum. Historical signs should incorporate old photographs, comparisons of the old building vs. the new, etc. Display any information that shows the passage of time and the changes that have taken place in the most interesting way possible.

6. Use consistent materials that are appropriate to the area. Given the large amount of signage needed for parks, it’s best to choose humble, easy-to-find materials, particularly natural ones indigenous to the area. Signage can become cohesive because of a common material that’s used, such as stone or wood. When possible, make sure the materials are appropriate for the park system and the geography of the area.

7. Use consistent, recognizable shapes to add cohesiveness. When developing an overall signage strategy, the repeated use of common shapes is one more visual reference visitors can use to navigate. They may get used to seeing large, square signs at all the buildings within the park, or know that they’ve arrived at a boundary when they come across a small logo’d pole. The bottom line is that people do respond to and remember shapes as well as colors and type treatments.

8. Factor in the speed at which visitors will be traveling for specific designs. The faster people are going, the larger and simpler the signs should be … because people will only see the signs for a short period of time before they pass them. For example, a sign directing people to the park on a high-speed road should feature large type with ultra-simple messages, such as: “Observatory Park, 1.5 miles.” In contrast, people will see trail signs at a walking pace, so trail signs can feature smaller print and more detailed information that invite people to stop, study, and learn.

9. Logo everything to extend the branding. Park systems often miss an opportunity to more strongly brand themselves because they don’t logo everything that can be logo’d. It’s easy to remember to logo basic navigation and facility signs. To extend the brand, also logo the shirts of park workers, the lawn mowers, snow plows and park vehicles in general–basically anything involved with the park that can provide additional identity.

10. Don’t just adhere to ADA rules–honor them and welcome those with disabilities. If you talk to most people in a wheelchair, they will vent their frustrations in trying to find building access, or even a bathroom with a wheelchair-accessible stall. So any good signage scheme should make it easy for those with disabilities to find and access the facilities. More parks are offering wheelchair-accessible trails, too, and these should be as clearly marked, as well as necessities like wheelchair-accessible bathrooms.

One final note–any signage incorporated for a park or recreational facility should look outdoorsy and recreational (vs. being conservative). Signage for these facilities should basically shout two things:

1. You can have fun here.

2. You can learn here.

Tie it all together with a cohesive look that provides form and function, and you’ll have a winning tool for drawing people back to your offerings, as well as establishing a stronger brand.

Marty Gregg, president and founder of Arthouse Design, in Denver, Colo. (www.arthousedenver.com), is a recognized expert in way-finding and signage strategies. He can be reached at (303) 892-9816, or marty@arthousedenver.com.

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  5. Think Ahead

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