Tag Archives: wayfinding

Wayfinding And Preservation In A Small Town

Over the weekend I visited Price for work. While I was there saw some interesting examples of urban development in a small town.

Perhaps most notably, Price has some wayfinding in its downtown:

A map of downtown Price, in downtown Price.

A map of downtown Price, in downtown Price.

This map isn’t fancy or professionally sourced, but it’s better than what many cities have — including currently Provo, for some reason.

This isn’t to say Price is a walkability or tourist paradise. In reality, I saw almost no one walking around while I was there. But it’s nice to see the city make the effort, and this map really was all I needed to orient myself. In the end something is always better than nothing.

Another thing that stood out from Price was this ornate building:

A building in downtown Price.

A building in downtown Price.

This building is fancier and more interesting than most, maybe even all, of Provo’s comparable historic structures. It needs some new paint in a few places (ironically) but the faces in particular are quite impressive.

From this I glean two lessons: first, that small towns sometimes have the most impressive old buildings and, second, that growing towns experiencing relative prosperity (e.g. Provo) are often the ones that lose their historic buildings.

As I’ve written many times before, European tourist towns are a good example of this phenomenon; the old medieval villages we all love to visit today stayed the same for centuries because they experienced hundreds of years of decline, even poverty. During that time there was low demand for land and new development, so the old buildings remained untouched. On the other hand, a place like Manhattan — which was filled with smaller but still substantial historic structures before Provo even existed — prospered and eventually replaced most of it’s little buildings from 18th and early 19th century.

Comparing Price and Provo offers a similar, if accelerated and smaller example. In terms of infrastructure and architecture, Price’s downtown is very similar to Provo’s but more complete and unified. Despite it’s considerably small size, it has nearly as many old buildings and fewer appear to have been torn down. There are no big, ugly newer buildings in the mix, as there are in Provo.

But Price is smaller and not experiencing the kind of growth Provo gets. Hence, the better preserved downtown.

There are ways make sure historic preservation and growth don’t become mutually exclusive, but in the end greater prosperity almost always means changes to the built environment.



Filed under Downtown, economics, travel, utah

A Good Idea With Terrible Implementation

The Joaquin neighborhood recently got a brand new sign. It’s located on 500 North and roughly 80ish East.

This new sign identifies the Joaquin neighborhood and is located just south of the library.

In theory, this simple sign could help people navigate the surrounding area, bolster neighborhood pride and identity, and even simply alert people that Provo has distinct neighborhoods. In other words, I think there are real social and economic benefits to having signs like this one.

But unfortunately, the sign was installed in such a poor location that it misses out on nearly all of those benefits.

The first problem is that the sign was placed behind two trees — which happen to be the most closely-spaced on the entire block — and is consequently almost invisible. It was so hard to see that I couldn’t even get a good picture of the entire thing.

This is a typical view of the sign. A few more steps back and it would have been completely obscured. It’s also worth noting that these trees are only going to get bigger. Odder still, none of the other trees on this block are as close together, meaning the sign was placed in the midst of the densest foliage in the area.

Can’t see the sign? That’s because it’s completely blocked by the trees.

Even moving the sign 10 yards to the west would have made it a bit more visible. As it currently stands, however, the placement is about as bad as it can be.

A sign entirely blocked by two trees is bad enough, but in this case it also happens to be on the wrong side of the street.

A satellite view of 500 North in Provo, between University Ave and 100 East.

In the picture above, the green arrow indicates the direction of eastbound traffic and the blue arrow indicates westbound traffic. Although this block is technically already part of Joaquin, the majority of the neighborhood lies to the east, in the direction of the green arrow.

Conversely, westbound traffic moving along the blue arrow is effectively leaving Joaquin.

Yet bafflingly, the sign — marked by the red X — is located on the north side of the street and therefore aimed at people traveling west, exiting the neighborhood.

Even more tellingly, the metal “Historic Provo” portion of the sign faces people traveling west. To see what I mean look at the first picture above (you may have to click to enlarge it) and note that the words “Historic Provo” are backward. That’s because I was facing east, toward the Joaquin neighborhood, when I took the picture. Again, the point is that the sign is directed at people leaving Joaquin, which makes no sense and is actually quite confusing.

Though I think these types of elements can be effective and relatively inexpensive ways to enhance a neighborhood, this sign’s placement offers a poignant example of how to waste resources and good intentions. The one ray of hope is that unlike a large building or infrastructure project, this sign could very easily be moved and improved.

If I didn’t already know what the Joaquin neighborhood was, this confusing and poorly-placed sign wouldn’t have helped me find out.


Filed under neighborhood

Wayfinding and Audience

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I’ve been doing some traveling and, among other things, collecting information for this blog. It’ll probably take me months to go through all the photos and notes I’ve taken, but one of the funnest things I observed on my recent trip was various forms of wayfinding. For example, in Barcelona’s oldest neighborhood, I found these three signs:

Three signs in Barcelona’s medieval neighborhood.

The top piece in that picture is a modern restoration of a Hebrew sign that used to be in the neighborhood when it was occupied by medieval Jews. Christians later forced the Jews out (and killed them), and the middle sign comes from the neighborhood’s later, Christian period. The final sign on the bottom is obviously recent.

It’s fun just to see the historic evolution of wayfinding in a very old place, but these signs also suggest the importance of audience: each successive population used language — as well as other factors like style, placement, materials, etc. — to target a specific group. The Jewish and Christian signs are particularly illuminative; what better way to show that you don’t want a group of people around than to rip out their signs and replace them with something in a new language. (It should go without saying that this is also very sad and is a poor reflection on the so-called Christians that once lived in Barcelona.)

With multiple languages and an emphasis on historical information, the new sign on the bottom also reveals how much tourism and multiculturalism is a part of Barcelona’s economy today. In other words, even if I knew nothing about the city and just magically appeared in front of these signs, I could glean a lot of information about community values and wealth by looking at this wall.

The same could almost certainly be said of all wayfinding, including any examples in Provo. In this context, it’s worth considering who might be the target audience for future wayfinding in Provo. What languages will they speak? What destinations will they be searching for? What values will the signs convey?

Another city I visited, Segovia, asked these same questions and decided to cast a wide net:

Signs in Segovia, Spain.

With graphics and three different languages, these signs are obviously for visitors to the city, rather than locals. The city also must have put some serious consideration and research into which languages to include.

All of this is to say that like all texts and graphical information, street signs and wayfinding target specific audiences. The greater awareness designers have of those audiences, the more effective the signs will be.

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Filed under Provo, travel

Still No Wayfinding in Downtown

Downtown Provo still lacks any significant wayfinding. That means there are insufficient signs, maps and guides to help people get around. And in case I wasn’t sufficiently clear in this post from March, when I say “wayfinding,” I’m specifically referring to pedestrian wayfinding.

Not long after I wrote that post above, I heard rumors that Provo actually was working on adding more signs. Then, a couple months later, the parking signs in this post went up.

I sincerely hope those signs were not the rumored “wayfinding” efforts. While they’re great — other than the fact that they’re a bit unclear — one of downtown Provo’s greatest assets is its walkability. Consequently, over the long term pedestrian-oriented signs will matter at least as much as their car-oriented counterparts. And without sufficient guides in place, tourists and newcomers alike are adrift (Note: the grid system, as logical as it seems, somehow confuses some visitors).

By contrast, for all of its many weaknesses, Salt Lake City’s new City Creek mall has fairly adequate wayfinding.

This sign isn’t perfect, but it’s at eye level for pedestrians and set back far enough on the sign walk to both catch people’s eye and not imperil them by placing them too close to street traffic.

In fact, downtown Salt Lake generally has some decent wayfinding in the area around City Creek.

A map of downtown Salt Lake that is specifically geared toward pedestrians.

If I had designed the signs above, I might have done a few things differently. But ultimately they’re effective and easy to use.

Why doesn’t Provo have something like that? Perhaps in the form of a single map, say on the corner of Center and University Ave or Freedom?

Instead, however, Provo has signs like this:

Signs on University Ave. I’m about six feet tall and extending my arm straight up I couldn’t reach the bottom of the parking sign. That means it’s at least seven or eight feet high. For pedestrians — who might benefit from the top convention center sign — that’s too high to be immediately visible while walking on the sidewalk.

Other signs in downtown Provo accomplish even less:

The blue visitor information sign in this picture is barely visible beneath a banner. If this picture were taken from a different angle, it’d also be apparent that the sign is largely obscured by a tree and a parking sign. And like the signs in the picture above, this one is too high to really benefit pedestrians. All of that means that almost no one is getting anything out of this sign.

The downtown signs in the picture above also have other problems. They give no indication, for example, of how far users will have to travel to arrive at their destinations. It could be a block, a mile, or more. The simply don’t say. By contrast, many cities will include distances on their signs — for example, “Convention Center, 100 meters”.

The visitor information sign is also simply hard to understand. Is visitor information in the building immediately to the right? Is it just around the corner? If I was new to Provo, I seriously doubt that this sign would help me find the visitor information office two and half blocks to the southwest.

The point here is that the existing signs in Provo are ineffective for pedestrians, and they’re not particularly great for drivers either. I’d also go so far as to say the visitor information sign was a flat out waste of time and money.

As a result, Provo still needs more wayfinding. Examples abound in cities across the world, but right now Provo just needs to get started.


Filed under Development, Downtown, driving

Signs of the Times

If you’ve walked, or driven, through downtown Provo lately you may have noticed a few subtle changes. The most apparent is probably the addition of parking signs, which I’m fairly certain are new.

100 East Center Street

Roughly 250 East Center Street

100 East Center Street, looking west.

Though I’m not entirely sure where that last arrow is pointing, these signs should help drivers navigate downtown. (I recently suggested Provo add this type of sign in downtown in this post. Little did I know that that process was already underway.)

One bizarre little thing here is that the fonts and colors differ from sign to sign. Look at the letter R in all three signs; in the first two it’s the same but in the last one it’s different. All the other letters also show minor differences between the two styles.

All the signs should function adequately, so this isn’t really a criticism so much as a curiosity. Of course, the two signs with the same font include arrows pointing in the same direction, but I don’t know why the font would change just because the arrow points away from the large P. How and why did that happen?

In other downtown news, the upcoming mixed-use Harman House is nearly complete. Sometimes, I lament the times I live in and the aesthetic disasters we continually construct. Then I see a project like the Harman House and take heart.

The Harman House reportedly will have studio apartments upstairs and office space below.

Note in the picture above the sign in the bottom left. That’s fairly recent. The building also now has a fantastic new window:

A new stained glass window in the Harman House. Apologies for the glare.

That window is one of the coolest little additions to downtown that I’ve seen lately. The picture below was taken earlier this year and shows what the window replaced.

The stained glass window replaced an ordinary, semi clear-glass window in the center of the building. Also note the glimpse of the sign in the bottom left. It used to include information about a bank.

And finally, the picture below shows that the Harman House will include a contemporary addition on the back. To the credit of the building owners, they went through the effort to match most of the brick. That may seem like an obvious move, but Provo is filled with buildings displaying a hodgepodge of brick styles from decades of slapdash add-ons.

I have no idea what is going on with the red brick in the middle section, but the portion of this building surrounded by scaffolding is a new addition while the sliver of building visible on the left is historic. Up close, the brick doesn’t look identical but it’s a pretty good match. And despite the way this picture looks, he red brick middle section isn’t easily visible from most angles.

The Harman House add-on in mid March. This project is nearly complete. The red brick divides the old and new sections.


Filed under driving, parking

Why Is There No Wayfinding in Provo?

As far as I’m aware, Provo has no signs to help pedestrians navigate downtown. That’s a problem:

Imagine you somehow ended up on a downtown Provo street corner with no knowledge of the city. If you have a smart phone, google maps can get you started. But an iPhone isn’t necessarily going to direct you along the most scenic or safe route. It won’t automatically show clusters of interesting things together — an off-the-radar restaurant near a small art gallery, for example — and ultimately won’t help visitors navigate the city as efficiently as locals.

The answer to these problems is “wayfinding,” a word describing efforts to provide navigation tools within an urban environment. The Atlantic Cities has devoted several articles to this concept in recent months, including this one. Practically speaking, wayfinding is often accomplished through visual landmarks, signs, public maps and other tools. It seeks to answer many questions:

How do you clarify to people what a city is about, how they should move through it and where they can find all the really important stuff? Or, put another way: How does a city do this, all on its own, so that I don’t have to ask a knowledgeable-seeming stranger on the street for directions?

Asking strangers for directions can be very effective, but I’ve also noticed that adding pedestrian signs and maps to a city can help a visitor immensely. Indeed as I’ve traveled, I’ve invariably had a more efficient and pleasurable experience in cities with aids that helped me find the points of interest. Even people who don’t travel a lot have probably had similar experiences when simply visiting an amusement park or mall.

Provo isn’t an exceptionally difficult city for visitors to navigate, but as downtown becomes more complex and filled with more destinations — the Tabernacle Temple, the convention center, the historic ruins, the frontrunner station — additional wayfinding aids would be immensely useful. As Emily Badger writes:

A wonderfully designed place presents itself to tourists and residents alike with a kind of intuitive ease: the church is on the hill, the commerce is on the river, the grand boulevard leads straight to the main monument in town. Everywhere else, you need signs. And street banners, and pavement markings and public art and directional plaques and map kiosks.

As Provo proverbially grows up, installing wayfinding aids such as signs and maps would help people navigate the city, encourage walking, and bolster a sense of place. What’s more, this idea would be relatively cheap and easy to implement.

Downtown Provo is great, but additional signs and maps could help create a sense of place, encourage walking and welcome visitors.

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Filed under Development, Downtown