Analysis: We need better signs



Port Aransas signs lack consistency in appearance, according to a design company.

Port Aransas signs lack consistency in appearance, according to a design company.

The mixed bag of publicly owned signs in town lack consistency in appearance and don’t offer enough direction for vehicles or pedestrians.

That’s the conclusion of a “wayfinding analysis” of the city’s signage conducted by RSM Design. The analysis was a project of the Port Aransas Tourism Bureau and Chamber of Commerce with support from the City of Port Aransas. RSM Design is an architectural graphic design company in San Clemente, California.

The services of the company were engaged “to assist in the development, design, and final design and construction documents to support a comprehensive signage and wayfinding program for Port Aransas. The project began in October of 2021 with initial audits and interviews with key city staff and council members, in addition to landowners that control public signage,” according to the tourist bureau’s website.

The goal is to declutter signs around town and replace them with fewer signs that are simple, bolder and more effective.

Hary Mark, principal with RSM Design, makes a presentation on April 28 to stakeholders on Port Aransas signs and how the town’s system of ‘wayfinding’ could be improved. The presentation was made in Port Aransas ISD’s administration building. Staff photo by Dan Parker

Hary Mark, principal with RSM Design, makes a presentation on April 28 to stakeholders on Port Aransas signs and how the town’s system of ‘wayfinding’ could be improved. The presentation was made in Port Aransas ISD’s administration building. Staff photo by Dan Parker

What’s needed

These signs, according to the analysis, should be placed at key “decision points” in town.

Decision points are “where, when you are navigating around town, you have to make a decision to turn left, right or go forward,” said Harry Mark, principal with RSM Design.

Currently, signs lack consistency in terms of style and therefore “lack a brand presence,” he said.

A brand presence, Mark said, is created through logos, tag lines, colors or icons that “establish a kind of brand or personality.”

Creating a brand

The tourism board has established a brand of what Port Aransas is about, he said.

Most people visit a community online first, looking at it virtually, Mark said. The brand and emotion of Port Aransas is effectively established on the tourist bureau’s website and social media, so, when a visitor arrives, “you want to make sure it is represented in town as well,” Mark said.

Through the “wayfinding” project, “We want to make sure Port Aransas stays wonderfully eclectic; we don’t want to see it become so consistent that it becomes formulaic,” Mark said. “We want that saltiness. You have to know when to use it and when not to, so it is not too homogenous.”

On the flip side, though, what has occurred over many years is visual clutter, Mark said.

Through a more cohesive campaign and consistency of signage, a person can navigate through town more effectively, he explained.

“It’s not as much about putting up new signs as it is removing layers of old signs and putting up fewer, more effective signs,” Mark said.

In the eyes of the tourist bureau, the town’s “brand” should be conveyed in a similar fashion throughout the city.

Direction needed

Existing signs, in a variety of styles, are more regulatory as opposed to directional, according to the wayfinding analysis.

There are few vehicular or pedestrian directions guiding a visitor to amenities and destinations in town, the analysis showed.

Directional signs should guide a first-time visitor arriving by car to the beach, the ferry, the nature preserve, et cetera, Mark explained. These signs, he said, should be of a certain scale, proportion and contrast; be simple, bold and deliberate for safety reasons.

“Too many messages on a sign can be very confusing and dangerous. There’s a science to that,” he said.

The tourist bureau also wants to promote walkability, “so directional signs for pedestrians who are exploring or trying to find a particular place should guide them at a different speed (compared to a vehicle that is moving faster), be smaller, may have a map and include the distance between places so they promote walking rather than hopping in the car to go half a mile,” Mark said.

Port Aransas lacks signs that guide visitors to amenities, the analysis noted. Such signs would be simple and properly oriented to guide visitors to nearby amenities.

These signs would inform visitors of the many cultural and natural destinations in the city, such as the marina, nature preserve and the museum, Mark said.

Cut confusion

Both systems of signs would make visitors aware these amenities are part of the community and accessible. They would cut down on confusion and promote longer stays in the community when visitors recognize the opportunities, he added.

Signs should be added clarifying where beach parking permits can be purchased and noting the camping restrictions on the beach. Currently, the city is dotted with a “whole layer of regulatory signs. That’s fine for letting you know you’re parking in a wrong place, but how do I get a permit?” Mark said. The existing signs are negative, and instead need to be more positive, he said.

Signage should be informative to visitors to keep them from getting “a $500 sting, for safety and protection (rip tides, preserve the dunes),” Mark suggested.

As it is, Port Aransas has layers of signs with no cohesiveness that lose the message, and the message is unclear. The goal is to combine some of those signs into a clear, cohesive message, Mark said.

You have arrived

Also, according to the analysis, entrances to the city lack landmark status that create a sense of arrival.

“When you are visiting any community on vacation to fish, visit a relative or whatever, the sense of ‘I’ve reached my destination’ provides a sense of comfort. In an environment where community sprawl is unchecked and one community blends into another, you don’t get a sense of arrival,” Mark said. A landmark sign should signal “you’ve come into a special place. Having that sense of identity creates a sense of security, of knowledge of arrival and of brand awareness,” he said.

As it is, “Not everyone knows where to go. (Cohesive, consistent signage) promotes the positive aspects of community,” Mark said.

Use of art

One suggestion is that public art be used to fulfill that purpose.

Using art in signage also is a way to “reflect the community, through engagement with, and weaving in, art by local artists that make it more of an expression of that community,” Mark said. The signs should be customizable and allow local artists to work together so art becomes equally important as a tool for navigating.

‘Take a left at that mural,” he said, as an example. In that way, the city uses art as intuitive navigation and keeps the eclectic vibe of Port Aransas, he added.

“We don’t design, we want to work with the local arts community” to do that, Mark said.

Community input

Last month, Mark met with stakeholders to present a plan for addressing these issues with the city’s signage. Input from those stakeholders was collected through last week.

The stakeholders were representatives from Nueces County, Nueces County Coastal Parks, the University of Texas Marine Science Institute, TxDOT (Texas Department of Transportation) Keep Port Aransas Beautiful, Port Aransas Art Center, Port Aransas Preservation and Historical Association, Farley Boat Works, the Port Aransas City Council, city management and staff, the city’s parks and recreation department, Port Aransas Nature Preserve at Charlie’s Pasture, the Port Aransas Independent School District, Palmilla Beach Club & Golf Resort, Port A Escapes, Coldwell Banker Island Realtors, Port Aransas Realty and the University of Texas Marine Science Institute.

A smaller group of stakeholders includes Brett Stawar, president and CEO of the tourist bureau; Joan Holt, city council member (whose term expires this month); Jo Ellyn Krueger, council member; David Parsons, city manager; Keith McMullin, a real estate broker and former mayor of Port Aransas; Laurie Soechting, co-owner of the Blue Water Cowboy; Rae Mooney, manager of the nature preserve; in-coming Mayor Wendy Moore; and Colleen Simpson, director of the city’s parks and recreation department.

Visuals depicting the concept of this signage plan will be posted online at www.portaransas.org/chamber/improve/ wayfinding/. On that site, the public can view proposed signage and weigh in on the idea via the website through Memorial Day.

The goal is for the tourist bureau to provide to the city general cost estimates on some of the phases and elements of the program by mid-summer in time for them to be considered in the 2023-24 budgeting process.

“Then, by the time the next fiscal year begins (October) these plans will be somewhat turnkey and ready for the city to bid and move forward to build out in their desired phases,” Stawar said.

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