Should Street Corner Signs Also Sing and Dance?

There are many corners in the city without street signs, and you’ll frequently spot tourists, map-in-hand, trying to figure out where they are. This got us thinking about street corner signs!

What would we like street corner signs to do? What could they be doing for us? Will they shortly be redundant – because of smartphones, for example?

Here’s a quick mock-up to get you thinking! The actual design is irrelevant for the moment, as that’s not what this discussion wants to focus on for the moment. (The two black boxes are there purely to demonstrate the concept…presumably wouldn’t be visible on any sign.)

  1. Could the sign be doing something else as well as what we think of as a ‘normal’ sign?
    • Gather variable information? (For eg pollution, parking, etc.)
    • Display information? (for eg pollution, parking, etc.)?
    • Broadcasting information? (For eg Bluetooth, wifi, etc.)
    • Some type of information for emergency services?
  2. Logo for each area?
    • Could/should each neighbourhood have it’s own logo? (For example Temple Bar do.)
    • Would it be useful for reinforcing sense of communities and localities?
  3. Neighbourhood name for each area?
    • At the moment many areas of Dublin are unclear as to exactly which neighbourhood they’re in. Does that matter? Would it be useful to clearly point it out on each street corner?
    • Would it be useful for reinforcing sense of communities and localities?
  4. The Street Name(s)
    • English and Irish (with Irish being displayed first) are mandatory, so let’s remove them from the discussion. Should we be reflecting other languages (or perhaps ‘cultures’)?
    • Should GPS co-ordinates also be shown?
  5. A piece of history or culture or myth or a story about that particular street?
  6. A way of connecting to the online/virtual world?
    • If item 7 below makes sense, how should the ‘physical’ sign link people to the ‘virtual’ one? A short URL (for eg or a QR code (as shown above) or something else?
  7. What online/virtual world?
    • A ‘webpage’ of some sort (which could then link to info about the street – a website, facebook, twitter, blog, residents committee, history of the street, etc)?
    • Some connection to ‘reporting’ (such as litter reporting, or blocked drains, etc)?
    • A virtual world such as SecondLife or Virtual Dublin?
    • 2D Maps (Open Street Map, etc), 3D Maps (Bing bird’s eye view), Ground-level mapping (Google’s Streetview), etc?
  8. What (if any) are the connection/feedback loops between the hard/real and soft/virtual worlds? Is there some way that a ‘virtual’ world might be reflected on the ‘physical’ world? (As one example, there are games in which to move down a street in the online/virtual game, you’ve to actually move down the street in the physical world.)
  9. It’s not numbered above…but the sign itself. What form should it take? Could each sign be a unique piece of art, for example – perhaps taking its design cues from the history, culture or identity of the street itself?

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This entry was posted in 1. Identity, Communication & Ownership, 3. Moving About, Beta Projects, Moving About and Resting, Shane. Bookmark the permalink.

34 Responses to Should Street Corner Signs Also Sing and Dance?

  1. The QR code could direct one to an Augmented Reality app geo located and superimposed on a google street view perhaps , showing historical data, tips and deals etc.. a la the movie Minority Report.

    • dubcitybeta says:

      Thanks Elish, someone recently mentioned a similar idea WRT to historical info. Know of anyone doing that in Dublin at the moment?

      Could just link to it for the moment to demo the idea. (Will also look into ourselves.)

  2. Carrickavoy says:

    The signposting of boundaries is interesting. In the catchment area of South Tyrone (up north) road signposts are also located near townland boundaries and the townland name included below. Although politically motivated this also adds another interesting cultural layer to reading the landscape.

    I think it is also important to remember why are we curating these signs? Who are the audiences? Most importantly we shouldn’t forget the local voice, the people who live in these areas and make up these communities. This process should not become about packaging and commodifying an area but rather should focus on community – I’m not sure if logos necessarily do that as much as good community engagement and development does.

    • dubcitybeta says:

      Thanks and v interesting!

      Re the community-element, absolutely. But are there pros (or indeed cons) to ALSO clearly defining areas?

      That definition might just come from mentioning the neighbourhood name, or something like a logo, or something else. (If felt to be a good idea, how best to decide on those could/would presumably be a separate Beta.)

      Good question. WHO are street corner signs for? Do those people still have a need for in the era of smartphones etc? If not, are there other ‘needs’ that street corner signs are still useful for? (Identity, culture, etc?)

      • Carrickavoy says:

        ‘But are there pros (or indeed cons) to ALSO clearly defining areas?’
        Boundaries by their very nature are liminal zones and therefore areas of negotiation in a social and cultural sense. Obviously administrative boundaries are a different fish. I would argue that you can not clearly define them culturally in absolute terms, and aren’t communities social and cultural entities?!

        In regards to smartphone technology – it may help us read a landscape but it can not replace being in that landscape and moving through it. I would suggest that signage should have another layer to our perception of an area beyond and outside of gps/smartphone/gis technology. Who is the audience? I would argue that firstly it is the local community, the people who live in the area the other audiences are secondary….

      • kevinwoulfe says:

        Boundaries lead to divides and separation between people or groups. Eventually lead to thinking of ‘us’ and ‘them’, eg. north south divide. My thinking would be that if there is no defined boundary between communities then it is probable that the communities overlap and intermingle and that for me is something we want encourage rather than deter.

      • dubcitybeta says:

        Thanks Kevin, a few questions below to dig a bit deeper. 🙂

        Scale 3 – Do you think that current signs which indicate the postal code divide communities? For eg “Dublin 8” and “Dublin 2” on either side of George Street.

        Scale 2 – Or is the scale too large, and it’s only at smaller scale that you think it would occur – for eg if signs mentioned “Rathmines” and “Ranelagh”?

        Scale 1 – Or could the same then apply at micro scale, as signs currently divide along street lines, so divides up that community into streets?

        So Scales 1 & 3 above are currently on existing signs.

        Would adding Scale 2 be a good idea? Or replacing Scale 3 with Scale 2? You would feel not? Would you also remove some of the other Scales for the same reasons?

        Would you suggest any other information for a street sign?

  3. David Armstrong says:

    “Who is the audience? I would argue that firstly it is the local community, the people who live in the area the other audiences are secondary….”

    Aren’t street signs fundamentally to help guide people who are unfamiliar with an area?
    Communities may want to personalise their signage in order to alter/improve how the area is presented to a visitor, or to highlight a unique character of the area.

    Obviously the most important thing is that the community is happy with the signage. When you have pride in something, you tend to want to show it off. So I think the audience is firstly the local community but ULTIMATELY outsiders.

    • Carrickavoy says:

      There is road signage already in the city that corresponds with the osi map data of the area. Some of the signs have been removed from newer buildings but a lot are still there. I thought that this project is not about providing adequate signage for the city but is something bigger about defining areas. If the primary audience for such a project is not the communities that live and make up the area then you run the very real risk of re-branding areas and gentrifiying them without engaging the people you live there. This mistake has been made time and time again in numerous urban centres. An awareness of the audience and their engagement with the project would help to prevent this happening in this example also.

  4. I think the area logo and neighbourhood branding works well in Temple Bar and great to see it expanded to other areas…The Liberties, Old City, City Markets, South Georgian City, North Georgian City. Locates you in the city. Dont work everywhere…maybe we could resurrect some old names…like the Ward names still on some buildings?
    I think street name signs should tell you who the street is named after where possible. Its a nice historical anecdote. We dont necessarily needed to be bombarded with information.

  5. Complementing the traditional street signage with mobile gps-based information is the way forward. In terms of the style of signage, personally I’m a fan of the older white on green irish/english street signage (as per Bull Alley Street say). As someone who doesn’t live in Ireland, the style always strike me as a uniquely Irish feature of the built environment. The Temple Bar street signage identity also works well but it would be difficult to maintain the format for each of the other areas. A similar if not more idiosyncratic form of identity could be developed to define other significant areas i.e. the Liberties, Smithfield, etc. with the input of local community members.

    Including the street name in a different language may be appropriate in some circumstances and could also inadvertently contribute to the sense of identity of place. Of course, culturally and politically, it’s a sensitive issue but the street signage in English and Bengali in the Spitalfields area of London comes to mind and adds a extra layer of cultural interest to the home of multiculturalism.

    The integration of the physical signage with mobile phone technology is critical. Many people would appreciate learning about the local knowledge, history and curiosities about a given area. An GPS based application linked to the various locations could provide users with historical information on the area as well as allow for public generated information. DCC could design a city wide app to accompany the signage and depending on what you want to do, the app could provide you with additional historical information, allow you to make a report / provide information or provide you with practical information, ie. public transport links from the location, number of free Dublin city bikes available etc.

    For a somewhat hyperreal example, check out Keiichi Matsudas take on the augmented future of our cities: Like or loath the idea of an augmented reality urban life, gps mobile technology will become more dominant and could be the key for limiting visual clutter on physical signage, while also providing the user with the exact information he or she needs.

    • dubcitybeta says:

      Thanks Fiona, excellent points.

      Re AR, good suggestion. Fledgling tech, so main issue would be to somehow purely facilitate, or perhaps encourage, (or at least not hinder) future use. Issue with anything that DEFAULTS tech only is one of equality (does everyone have access to smartphones, data-packages, etc). So for now, needs a ‘hard’ backup.

    • Vin says:

      Perhaps this DCC designed app that you are proposing could tie in with something like StoryMap Dublin (

      I like the idea of pointing my mobile phone at a street sign and then being told a story or being given a bit of history of the area. I also like the idea of more and more stories being added to a particular area over time.

      By having access to an areas stories the viewer can see an areas history and transformation over time in a completely different context to what is currently possible. Unless an areas history is recorded in some way it tends to just die with every inhabitants passing. I’d imagine if people had a way of seeing it and reminded of it they would have more of an interest in preserving and cherishing it. A simple QR code could lead to inhabitants being more respectful of their surroundings.

  6. Hugh Roche Kelly says:

    It’s an interesting idea- I’ve been looking at the new DCC on street maps (the ones with the 10-minute walk circle, and orientated according to how the maps are situated). The new maps are one of my favourite things that the city council have done in the city- they’re maybe the best on street maps i’ve seen anywhere.
    The next step in terms of integrating signage and mobile technology should come in hand with those- yes, AR is the way forward, but I think it should be with these fantastic new maps, rather than with the signs. In my mind, it would work something like this:

    – a DublinCity specific mobile map application that shares the design of the new maps.

    – an in-app map reader that contains much more street level information. Google maps/ios usually have a certain amount of local business/culture information, but it is usually sketchy and generally isn’t what you are looking for at the time. The AR element can introduce a street directory- almost like the shopping centre directories telling you where argos is. Not only would this highlight businesses, it could also bring up information on temporary events- cultural activities such as the St Patrick’s festival with live map info of where the parade is, or for the Fringe/Theatre festivals showing you where temporary venues are. Events like Octoberfest or music events- showing you where buses leave to go to electric picnic/marley park events. Live parking information for city centre car parks. These highlighted items can be updated quickly, only be live for the lifespan of the event, and could introduce a revenue for the project- your big event pays to be highlighted on user’s maps.

    -The physical maps onstreets are great, and pointing your phone camera at them allows the app to show you the temporary info outlined above- superimposed on the camera image of the maps. The housings for the map could also be used as WiFi points- short range, 10-minute connections that allow tourists connect, download the app and use it as they get off the bus from the airport. (advertise the app in the 747 bus connections, allow users to install using on-board wifi). Your phone and its GPS then take the street maps with you as you go- the key is that the dublincity maps are curated directories, supplying much greater local detail than google maps currently does reliably.

    Which is kind of a totally seperate idea to the OP, but I really do like those maps and have been thinking about them a lot.

    As for street signs- i don’t think they’ll ever be obsolete. We’ve seen a very good example recently with the apple maps update how the technology of mapping still can’t be relied on 100%. They’ll always be needed, and the design of many of the signs in dublin are such that they should be preserved (I’d hate to see the old street signs go the way of the old pillar postboxes that seem to be getting replaced more frequently now)

    Replacing or upgrading street signs into some newer design/tech incorporated gizmo is inevitable. Low impact QR code panels- seperate to old school signs, and at street level- could be a good enhancement. QR panel info might be a good BetaProject as well- much cheaper to do, and a precursor to a wider initiative like the one i’ve scrawled out above.

    • antoin says:

      You cannot substitute street signs with GPS. GPS is just not dependable. It is highly vulnerable to blocking and you need a backup plan.

      Signs should have a 50 year life. Many current signs are made with 7-year vinyl and consequently fade after 7 or so years.

      The logos are not workable on signs with long lives.

      There used to be signs around edges of every ward. I would have a Small Area number on each sign. This would require a national system for numbering small areas.

      Locality/neighbourhood signs are difficult in Dublin. Addresses and place names are often aspirational rather than geographical.

  7. DCCbeta says:

    We just re-read over all of the comments above…and once again, thanks for the great feedback, some really great insights above.

    You might be interested in this new app…and suggestions as always welcome.

  8. antoin says:

    It has the same purpose as the old postal zone that used to be on the signs.. The number makes the street name unique. So, for example, there is only one James’s Place in Dublin 2, even though there is another in Dublin 8.

    The problem with using the postal zones is that they are not wholly reliable. The most blatant example is Pembroke Cottages. There are two Pembroke Cottages in Dublin 4. But there are lots of less blatant examples. There are streetnames with Merrion in them all over south east Dublin for instance.

    The Small Area code would deal with all this comprehensively for once and for all.

    • DCCbeta says:

      Thanks Antoin. Do you think neighbourhood names would work instead of SAs and if so why or why not? Would that provide any additional benefits that the provision of the SA wouldn’t…or can you see reasons for the reverse?
      (For eg St James’s Place, Sandymount and St James’s Place, Inchicore…or Pembroke Cottages, Ringsend and Pembroke Cottages, Donnybrook.)

      • antoin says:

        There are really no clear neighbourhood names in Dublin. For instance, St James’s Place, in Dublin 2. What neighbourhood is that in? Percy Place, Dublin 4? (An Post thinks it is in Ballsbridge, but it is not.) Upper Leeson Street?

        There are also plenty of contentious issues about these types of names where they do exist. For example, take. Glasnevin Avenue. Where is it really, Glasnevin or Ballymun? Where does Irishtown end and Sandymount begin? Rathmines and Ranelagh? The concept of a neighbourhood is not really defined in Dublin City, and it gets worse as you go out into the outlying counties.

        In reality, a lot of these place names are just fashions. They are aspirational as much as geographical. They change over time as places become desirable. Rialto was once a fancy address, and one day it will be again, for example.

        It would be very optimistic to try and define new neighbourhoods. It would be a lot of work and would most likely be resisted. Going by a numbering scheme would be a lot easier.

  9. elaineedmonds says:

    Im going to say something which might get a backlash- why cant thinks just have a single simple purpose? Having read all the comments and thought about my favorite street signs (yes I am enough of a nerd to have favorite street signs) I think that simplicity is best. In fact I would go so far as to advocate a sign that closely relates to the old street signs with a name, area/post code in durable material, simple colours and the possibility of neighbourhoods added where appropriate, no bells and whistles. If we eventually bring in the post code system thats 6 years late then they could be added in place of the single digit but kept in the style. Mostly I think our street signs should be uniform enough to be recognised as ‘Dublin’ much like other international cities where the street sign has even become tourist fodder. Now if only they were put back where missing…

  10. Antoin says:

    There are hundreds of Dublin neighbourhoods, each with its own distinctive character. Mapping out all the neighbourhoods to the extent of deciding on which neighbourhood every corner belongs to is a big job of work (years of work for a small team when you include all the consultation).

    Elaine makes a very good point. The simple stuff is being missed. Every corner should have a street sign.I would suggest a modular system for street signs. The basic street sign, on every corner with name in Irish and english, similar in style to the current sign. Then there could be a separate plate butted up to it with the postal zone, which can be replaced, if/when a comprehensive naming/numbering system for areas comes into force.

    What I am wondering about is what went wrong with street signage in the 80s and 90s? Up unti the 70s, it seems to me (though I wasn’t there and don’t remember) the streets were fairly well signed, but after that it fell off. It is important to understand the reason for the failure.

    If the problem was budget, then there is little point in talking about putting up all-singing, all-dancing signage.

    If for example, access to buildings was an issue, we should explore other alternatives for marking roads. In San Francisco, for instance, the street name is sandblasted into the pavement at every corner. Maybe this would work better in Dublin?

  11. DCCbeta says:

    We imagine that this could be a good starting point to create a flexible platform to begin to explore item 7 above.

  12. This might be of relevance – “Here are the new boundaries for next year’s local elections”

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