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The full story - Bristol Legible City explained

Behind Bristol Legible City is a simple aim – make the city more legible for visitors and residents, and everybody benefits. Achieving this aim is not as simple, it requires effective planning, creative thinking and the ability to deliver projects on the ground. Bristol Legible City is all of these things, it is an innovative programme that takes into account the needs of the individual at every step – whether it’s a tourist trying to find a hotel, someone with a business appointment to keep, a film-goer on their way to the cinema, a cyclist going to the shops, or an occasional ferry user.

Challenges of today’s cities
A city’s image and the quality of its urban environment are vital to its local economy and its national standing. Many well-established cities in the UK suffer from the legacies of cramped roads, bomb damage and blighted central areas. As a nation, we are travelling more often and further a field, the confusion of our urban environment is an increasing problem.

The city of Bristol is no exception. In the past, low levels of information – with attractions and routes erratically signposted – meant that visitors found the central area difficult to navigate whether travelling on foot, by public transport or by car. The city offered little in the way of welcome when visitors arrived at the bus or train station, or at any of the city’s car parks. The city failed to give people comfort or guide them to the wealth of attractions that were on offer. Bristol also lacked a strong visual identity to bind its disparate parts and distinguish it from competing destinations.

Bristol is changing
As a creative and innovative city, Bristol is changing rapidly with ground-breaking regeneration and development schemes. Harbourside, a derelict dockland, now hosts a science and environment centre containing the At-Bristol Wildwalk, Explore, and iMax cinema; Broadmead Shopping Centre is being extended and will be transformed by the arrival of stores such as Selfridges; and Temple Quay has provided high quality business premises adjacent to the main train station.

These developments, along with existing city attractions, make Bristol, more than ever, an exciting place to be and to do business, thus encouraging both inward investment and a thriving visitor and leisure industry. Together, they provide the catalyst for Bristol to take its place as a modern pioneer, leading the way in the region – and making a unique contribution in Britain and Europe. Bristol Legible City is part of this vision, a key component of the City Centre Strategy capitalising on Bristol’s potential. This will benefit business, culture, tourism and, most importantly, Bristol’s people.

Working in partnership
In 1996 the Bristol Legible City initiative was conceived by the City Council to deliver an information and wayfinding strategy that matched its ambitions to be a leading cultural and commercial destination. This resulted in a programme of work that would provide the glue to the City Centre Strategy for re-development and renewal. Led by the City Council, Local Government departments, Central Government agencies, Development boards and commercial organisations have come together to fund the Legible City initiative.

To implement Bristol Legible City, core development team was formed that included Council officers, urban planning designers, product designers, information and identity designers, public art consultants, and traffic engineers. This team has delivered over 40 projects.

Funding, through a key partnership with Adshel, led to information panels and direction signs appearing on the streets in 2001. They are designed to be long lasting and low maintenance: a management contract with Adshel ensures that the system will be kept clean and updated over the long term.

The vision
More than creating a sign system, the projects developed as part of Bristol Legible City are designed to link together the diverse parts of the city with consistently designed information; to make attractions better known and easier to find; to provide the city with a clear and positive identity and reinforce the character of its individual neighbourhoods; and to encourage a shift towards public transport in line with Bristol’s Local Transport Plan and the Government’s Integrated Transport Strategy.

The aim is to ensure that the centre of Bristol is more welcoming, vibrant and easier to navigate for visitors, more successful for its businesses and more enjoyable for all. Bristol Legible City will not mean more signs – in fact, it means less muddle and includes the removal of much of the obsolete information that confuses visitors and residents.

Forward-looking and user-friendly, Bristol Legible City is designed specifically to meet peoples needs in the new millennium.

Methodology and approach
Bristol Legible City projects include direction signs, on street information panels with city and area maps, printed walking maps, visitor information identity and arts projects. These projects communicate the city consistently and effectively to visitors and residents alike. This range of solutions requires coordination, to ensure that the projects and information make sense to the individual.

Using a combination of skills, research has been carried out by the development team to assess how Bristol is perceived and understood. Desktop research has been supplemented by extensive site testing and interviews with people on the streets of Bristol to ensure that the projects would meet the needs of the user and be effective in practice. Other research has included an understanding of best-practice drawn from a range of disciplines including urban design, social geography, environmental psychology, information design, movement planning, human factors design and place marketing.

With the framework in place, all new projects build-on and support the identity of the city. Through their careful development, time and money is saved and the result is a greater efficiency and consistency.

Creating frameworks
The first phase in developing Bristol Legible City was to establish a framework of projects to ensure a joined up approach when delivering solutions: a means of working which would use ideas effectively across different projects. Central concepts were developed which would provide a toolkit for delivering connected solutions.

For Bristol, an identity was developed which consisted of components, rather than a logo. The aim was to provide a simple yet distinctive voice for Bristol – a visual language which included, amongst other components, easily understood symbols, a colour palette and legible text. This foundation project work was to be seen on all new information in the city: from the Tourist Information Centre website, to
walking maps and signs for pedestrians. Its design and use was considered at this early stage. The typeface, Bristol Transit, is clear and easily read, designed to look modern and confident. On signs, for example, the number of words and icons is kept to a minimum, helping to avoid information overload and visual clutter. Area information is provided by specially developed 'heads up' maps which use three-dimensional images to put people directly in touch with their environment.

With the framework in place, all new projects build-on and support the identity of the city. Through their careful development, time and money is saved and the result is a greater efficiency and consistency.

Building on what’s been achieved
The results speak for themselves. Projects implemented within a coherent framework and delivered to a high standard. There are real benefits to visitors and residents of Bristol and a positive and forward looking approach to development and regeneration. Bristol Legible City is a blueprint for making the city a better place to live, work and visit. This gives the city a strong identity that is vital for its long term prosperity.

Projects are continuing to be developed within the Bristol Legible City framework to promote connectivity and seamless journeys. Research is underway to realise further uses for the network of on-street touch-screen units. In partnership with Cityspace a transport information channel, incorporating a journey planner, is one of the exciting opportunities for such technology. The city could see in the future a coordinated set of small fold out walking and bus route maps, city ‘Navigators’ providing on-street visitor information, measures to enhance the ‘Showcase Bus Route’ (in partnership with First Group) and the creation of a new front of house and elementary search engines for the ‘visit Bristol website.

Tackling problems of vehicular movement is another key step in the development of Bristol Legible City. Like every other major city, Bristol suffers problems of car traffic and pollution. These are cited by local residents and businesses as two of the worst aspects of life in the city. A new signing hierarchy has been proposed around the city centre to discourage through-traffic and improve access to Bristol’s attractions. Further phases of the project could improve accessibility to buses, trains and ferries – making it easier for people to find out about, and use, an integrated system of public transport. At the same time Bristol Legible City will continue to make the city centre a more appealing place in which to walk and cycle.

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More about the projects

A well-designed information system of information provides people with a mental map of the city centre

Major regeneration schemes like Harbourside are now transforming the centre of Bristol


A pedestrian sign system,
information points,
arts projects and walking map.