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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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. While designers are concerned with good practice, invoking semiotic principles, independent retailers with no formal training often create vibrant local signage. 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, in order to be productive, must speculate the probability of adequately communicating with those who will purchase goods or services, most likely people living nearby. Consequently, 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 local signs, when devoid of civic intervention, can provide a rich resource for interpreting socio-economic, cultural and, in a divided city like Belfast, political underpinnings of place, communicating the true ‘spirit of place’.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDesign Et Communication
EditorsBernard Darras, Stephan Vial
Place of PublicationParis, France
Publication statusPublished - 7 Jun 2017



  • Belfast
  • signage
  • semiotics
  • codes
  • interpretations
  • place
  • environment
  • society
  • culture
  • urban
  • commercial
  • interfaces
  • interspaces
  • peace walls

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