Inspired: Mark McArthur-Christie: Freeman Christie

You find inspiration in the strangest places. This, though, is the first time I’ve found it in a car park in the middle of Oxford.

Take a look at the original sign. More than 400 words in reversed-out, close-packed type, it is so confusing that it took more than half an hour to read and understand. At night the colour scheme made it almost impossible to decipher. It was so bad that local tramps were earning a few coins explaining to people how it all works.

We canned the white-out, capitalised text and replaced it with black and blue on white, mixed-case script. We used internationally recognised symbols. We added a map, so people visiting the city for the first time would know where they were and where to go. We changed the tone from a harsh, third-person passive voice to a friendlier first-person active. And we simplified the language and design – a lot.

Why should environmental design be so unpleasant? Is there any reason the tone should be so hectoring and hostile, and the design so unimaginative? We don’t think so either. Now that we have rewritten and redesigned Oxford’s signs we’re launching a campaign to promote better environmental design, Design for Clarity.

Watch this (public) space…

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