Manifesto for ‘spirit of place’: the expressive value of signage on Belfast’s arterial routes in representing wider environmental and societal themes.

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This book chapter builds on a previous journal article submitted to MEI (Mediation Et Information) Design et communication, Paris, France. Commercial signage has a greater presence than any other type of sign in the built environment of cities, conveying a rich tapestry of semiotic codes. Interpreters of signs decode visual information according to their abilities, experiences and needs, but are likely to recognise familiar cultural codes. Signage located within communities must speculate the probability of adequately communicating with those who will purchase goods or services. Commercial signage is often representative of informal community relations, with the spoken language of place gaining physical form through letterforms and cultural connotations expressed through colour and other associated codes. This paper examines signage in the built environment of Belfast’s arterial routes. Photographs demonstrate how various local signs can provide a rich resource for interpreting socio-economic, cultural and political underpinnings of place.

• This work contributes to the body of knowledge on signage; how words, letterforms, expression of language, location of signs, express wider environmental themes of place.
• While the research area is in Belfast, the methodology may be applied to any city to reveal underlying themes of place.
• The methodology involves fieldwork; signage is photographed and archived, then analysed for graphic and cultural codes. Photographs are by the author and contribute to a growing archive of images established from 2010, numbering in the thousands. Both the research and image archive are of value to the growing body of knowledge on the image of the city. Work allows for positioning of further research by this and other researchers.
• Themes investigated are significant and research has been conducted rigorously and with integrity. Research, writing, photographs, maps, for this output are the work of the author and researcher Ruth Brolly.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDesign et Communication
EditorsBernard Darras, Stephan Vial
Place of PublicationParis, France
Number of pages25
ISBN (Print)9782343124988
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 7 Jun 2017


  • Belfast
  • Expressive Values
  • Signage
  • Built environment
  • Societal theme
  • Spirit of place


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