a landscape lover's blog

garden tales from a Brit abroad

Tell-tale signs?

Signage. It sounds the most boring of topics. But in public parks and gardens, signs can make such a difference. Good ones make us feel welcome, confident, wanted. Bad ones leave us confused and irritated, sensing that our presence is merely tolerated.

I’ve been noticing some examples in Parisian landscapes.

Tuileries TuileriesFirst, some new signs in the jardin des Tuileries. Located in sensible places and frequently consulted, they are sleek and modern, with a map of the whole garden, and some arrows showing you the direction of the main features. To me they say: We don’t want you to see this as a fusty historic park: it’s a contemporary place. And we want you to stroll around and enjoy it all.

My only complaint about the Tuileries signs would be about this one at an entrance on the rue de Rivoli. Same simple design, but way too much information on some pretty complex opening times. It’s telling me: We don’t care if you feel welcome. We have our own elaborate systems and you just need to fit in with them. That panel along the bottom is also slightly discomfiting: We have already thought of two things you can’t do here, but we have left lots of room to list other forbidden activities when we think of them.

Tuileries

Here’s a terrible example. It’s the entrance to the historic cemetery at Montparnasse in the 14th arrondissement. Those forbidding stone walls have a tiny brass plaque with opening times, and then some random interdictions: no dogs; no parking because the firefighters need access; oh, and no parking anyway. With that forlorn rubbish bin and the glimpse of a barrier beyond the walls, it must be one of the most unwelcoming entrances in Paris. It says: We never give a moment’s thought to our visitors. Except when they do something annoying, and then we tell them to stop.

MontparnasseHere’s another poor one, this time in the newly restored glasshouses at the jardin des Plantes in the 5th. Each glasshouse has lots of these obtrusive, multi-coloured information signs, set on twiddly metal frames. To me they mutter: We don’t really think our plants are interesting enough. We don’t trust them to hold your attention. We hope to distract you with these signs.

Jardin des Plantes

Disneyland ParisOne final example for now, at Disneyland Paris.

Generally the signage there is woeful, but here’s a good one, from the Alice in Wonderful labyrinth. It’s fun, appropriate, and shows you the way to something you may otherwise have missed. It says: We think a lot about your enjoyment. Have some more fun over here!

The next time you see a sign in a public park, think what it tells you – not about opening times or toilet locations – but about the attitude to visitors of that place.

I am going to look out for more examples too.

Post script: If you’re interested in signage, you might like to visit my gallery of other wonderful and woeful examples.

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13 comments on “Tell-tale signs?

  1. michael 'hazeltree' thompson
    January 23, 2011

    ah yes, signs, do you find in general the French are better or worse than the English at signs..or should i not ask? …i hate the bill-boards scattered around the French countryside, something they seem to have borrowed from the Americans…

    • landscapelover
      January 27, 2011

      Hmm, not sure I want to jump into that particular cultural debate…!
      There are certainly lots of poor examples of signage in all three countries. I recently read an interesting article (not sure if I can post a link here, but it’s on the Garden Visit blog) complaining about the overly “folksy” signs in many of the National Parks in the US. I don’t see many folksy tendencies in Paris – so maybe there are some country-specific styles.

  2. lifeshighway
    January 24, 2011

    Of your examples, I found the multicolored signs in the greenhouse the most distracting. And of course you know I love the Cheshire Cat sign, I just want to hug him.

  3. Very interesting article, and you are so right with the underlying text for signage in public gardens. I love the sign that left plenty of room for further prohibited activities–really quite funny.

  4. Garden Sense
    January 25, 2011

    Good observations. Signage sometimes seems like an afterthought but as you nicely illustrate, has a significant effect on the feel of a place.

  5. On Botanical (Lula)
    January 25, 2011

    They are meant to offer information, but sometimes they destroy the “image” not to mention the photogenic of the landscape. Any ideas of alternatives for labeling without distracting?

    • landscapelover
      January 27, 2011

      It’s a good point. People so often think signage is the only way to convey information, but often other methods of communication can be more effective – leaflets, books, guided tours, open days, audio guides, articles in local newspapers, illustrated talks, iPod applications, etc. None of these distract from the spirit of the landscape in the way that permanent (and often badly designed) signage can so easily do.

  6. Alice Joyce
    January 26, 2011

    Good to find you on Blotanical,

    Signage always catches my eye. It can be an extremely important element in a garden visit when signs are well-conceived and executed.

    I look forward to your posts, and any and all virtual visits to Paris (and Britain?) when I can’t quite make the leap over the pond!

    Alice
    aka Bay Area Tendrils / Alice’s Garden Travel Buzz

  7. Cat/The Whimsical Gardener
    January 27, 2011

    Yes, not a fan of billboards myself but a well designed, well placed sign is a definite plus! Interesting post!

  8. Alice Joyce
    January 27, 2011

    p.s.
    I’ve added your site to my ‘Bevy of Blogs’ page;-)

  9. Pingback: RHS gardens, Wisley « Landscape Lover's Blog

  10. Pingback: Signs of the times « Landscape Lover's Blog

  11. Pingback: More tell-tale signs « Landscape Lover's Blog

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