garden tales from a Brit at home and abroad
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.
First, 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.
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.
Here’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.
One 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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
Good observations. Signage sometimes seems like an afterthought but as you nicely illustrate, has a significant effect on the feel of a place.
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?
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.
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!
aka Bay Area Tendrils / Alice’s Garden Travel Buzz
Yes, not a fan of billboards myself but a well designed, well placed sign is a definite plus! Interesting post!
I’ve added your site to my ‘Bevy of Blogs’ page;-)
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