The importance of public realm signage

12 September, 2023
The importance of public realm signage

From public parks to transportation hubs, public realm spaces facilitate rest, connection, movement, and discovery for entire communities. Public realm design is an integral part of a city or town’s identity and – when done well – can create safer, more cohesive communities.

Signage directly impacts how visitors experience public spaces. Whilst wayfinding is essential for navigating city streets and sites of interest, informational signs communicate vital messages and craft rich stories – building a sense of place for everyone.

Public Realm Spaces Make a City or Town

At the very core of an urban area’s identity is its public realm spaces. From sprawling parks to town squares to open air markets, the spaces that are freely available to all help to make life more convenient, create identity and promote connection.

For a city or town’s residents, a well-cared-for public realm fosters a sense of identity and civic pride. Not only does this encourage community cohesion, but it can also lower rates of vandalism and crime.

Equally, a city or town’s public realm makes an immediate yet lasting impression on visitors. As soon as they arrive – whether it’s at the bus station, train station or by road – visitors begin to get a feel for a place’s unique character. As gateways to a city or town, it’s vital that these spaces feel instantly inviting, accessible and cared-for.

After all, these first impressions not only build a city or town’s identity, but they also influence how much time visitors spend there. A beautifully designed town square can become an attractive spot to enjoy a coffee break, whilst a thoughtfully designed waterfront quay can become a buzzing hotspot.

As we see shops disappear from high streets, it’s now more important than ever that councils invest in public realm spaces. This will ensure that city and town centres continue to be thriving places for the public to spend time and connect.

The Vital Role of Signage

Intended for everyone to use and enjoy, public realm spaces should be – by nature – as accessible and inviting as possible. The role signage plays in making this possible cannot be understated.

For visitors and residents alike, wayfinding signage plays a critical role in making public realm spaces accessible. Wayfinding signage should be consistent and clear, with popular points of interest, such as parks and historical monuments, clearly signposted. Maps can also help visitors orientate themselves and even help residents discover new areas.

Equally, signage can improve accessibility for individuals with disabilities. Well-designed signage includes features like Braille, tactile elements, and easy-to-read fonts to ensure that everyone can access and understand the information.

For frequently visited sites such as parks, libraries and bus stations, signs are needed to convey essential information such as opening times, accessibility, and safety information.

Going a step further, signage can incorporate local history or cultural details about a public space. This will enrich people’s knowledge of the local area and give them a deeper feeling of connection to the cultural heritage of a town or city.

Such signage helps to create a visual identity that reflects the character and values of a city or public place. Yet, signage shouldn’t dominate. Instead, it should blend seamlessly into the surrounding environment.

For example, in a historic city centre, care must be taken to ensure that signage sits naturally alongside heritage buildings and sites of historical interest. Elements of the city’s industrial heritage – whether that’s steel, stone, or something else – can be integrated to play homage to a place’s past.

Finally, it’s essential that public realm signage is built to last. Why? So public spaces can be enjoyed by generations to come. Contending with natural outdoor elements as well as potential vandalism, public realm signage must be robust. This helps councils keep maintenance costs low, freeing up their budgets for projects that continue to build better communities.

Public Realm Spaces with Merson

At Merson Group, we know that public realm spaces have an immense potential to connect people not only with a city or town, but also with each other. By creating durable, bespoke signage packages that blend seamlessly into surroundings, we help public realm spaces craft their own unique identity.

When we were appointed as Principal Contractor by British Land, we set out to deliver a bespoke Place Branding scheme for Old Market Hereford. Situated in the exact spot of the town’s former livestock market, we knew it was important to recognise the site’s heritage.

Going beyond bespoke signage, Merson installed soft landscaping, decoration, feature lighting and large architectural entrance features. The result? A blend of rich history and fresh modern design that creates an unmistakable sense of place.

As part of the regeneration of Cumbernauld Town Centre, we delivered a major wayfinding package. To help the town carve out its new identity, we designed bold and robust wayfinding signage that truly put the towns’ point of interest on the map.

We were also privileged to create a unique range of wayfinding signage throughout the British Land-owned Paddington Central Public Realm. Our mission was twofold; to direct people seamlessly between locations whilst also elevating the identity of the public space.

We designed, produced, and installed a selection of monolith and totem signs crafted from premium materials. By blending natural oak, greenery, and industrial materials we were able to give the Central London location a unique character and fresh feel.

When it comes to installing signage, no one better understands the unique challenges of working in a public realm space. Safety, efficiency, and minimal disruption to businesses nearby is always at the forefront of Merson’s process.

Looking to transform a public realm space in your town or city? Contact us at to find out how we can help.