New wayfinding sign, more streetscape development

The new streetscape wayfinding sign is now up on 4th St. on the south side of the First National Bank Northfield. See Ross’ NDDC blog post for more details.

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The new streetscape project at 3rd St. and Hwy 3 was mostly completed last Saturday. I took photos of Architect Spencer Jones there with a crew from Grove Landscaping as they finished up. All that’s left is the installation of a wayfinding sign.

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The arches on Division at 3rd St. were the initial streetscape installations. See the blog post, poll and discussion from Sept. 1.


  1. Kurt Larson said:

    I have been watching the progress these last few weeks on the corner work at Mn Hwy 3 and the South Water parking lot. If you have not checked it out I would suggest doing so. The stone work on the walls is great, the bridge theme of the fencing is suttle and seems to work well.
    On the first day of the work they spaded out the only tree left after the hwy reconstruction project. I was dissappointed, but now I see they have planted several new trees. A fair trade by far. The old tree was pretty big but the new ones will be nice, unless you think size does matter.
    Also, the new walls take care of the need for a new skate board park, the kids should love it.

    October 30, 2007
  2. Just saw the wayfarer signs as we were exiting Mandarin Garden. Well, I saw it,
    and could barely read the wording, confessing that I don’t wear my walking glasses, cuz I only need them to read smallish writing. Well, I knew what the words on the sign said without actually seeing them clearly. I asked dh what he thought of the sign, and he said, “what sign?” while looking over in that general direction. Then he said he thought it was fine and that he could read it well.
    I wonder how many people are like me and wandering around without thier
    full 20/20 vision. I think quite a few, and as a result, I think a few of the elders
    will miss that sign altogether. If you did move the two hour parking sign, you
    might not look up to see the rather dull small sign.
    Sorry to be so criitcal, but I have some experience with signage and it’s visibility, and find this to be another example of too little visibility for some of
    our visitors.

    October 30, 2007
  3. Ross Currier said:

    Bright –

    Randy Jennings commented on the NDDC site:

    To quote him about size:

    “The sign on 4th Street is just a prototype to evaluate whether or not the sign is an appropriate size when installed.”

    – Ross

    October 30, 2007
  4. Bill Ostrem said:

    I applaud the installation of the wayfinding sign. It will be a nice aid to visitors who want to walk around town.

    October 31, 2007
  5. Philip Spensley said:

    I begin to see the logic and the appeal… railings and the signs and the arches…same motif, same color scheme…eventually will create a unified aesthetic throughout the downtown. I like it and I look forward to further installations.

    The only unpleasant aspect of the picture of the sign is the prominence of the parking regulations sign right next to it…really detracts from the sign I think. What a pity. Can we find a way to get rid of these ugly aspects while introducing the more eye pleasing ones? Will motorists take all sorts of scabrous liberties if we don’t limit them to two hours? Do we really really need parking limits downtown? But if we do, need those signs be so prominent? Could they be on the buildings, maybe, so from the street they’d be visible (for the drivers) but not visible while walking down the street?

    But…more my point…thanks to all those responsible for the streetscape improvements so far.

    October 31, 2007
  6. Randy Jennings said:

    Thanks to Ross for pulling over the comment about the wayfinding sign now hanging on 4th Street. I hadn’t realized there was an LG thread on this…

    As noted, sign now hanging is a prototype to evaluate whether or not the sign is the right size. (It was designed for the corner of 4th and Division, not mid-block, but this was the closet light pole.) The final signs will be executed in wrought iron and metal panels.

    What looks good in a design, and even as a mock-up hanging indoors, now looks small when installed. We’re trying to balance the readability issues Bright describes in post #3, with not wanting to be too obtrusive in placing these wayfinding signs in the historic district. Visible to visitors, but after a short period of time, nearly invisible to residents.

    To further Philip’s comment, as the elements of the streetscape improvements roll out, I think we’ll all appreciate the thought that has gone into the various parts. Over the past few years, the mayor, council members, city staff, volunteers on the Mayor’s Streetscape Task Force and various designers, planners and others have done a nice job integrating a few key motifs across the projects. For example, the wrought iron bracket of the wayfinding signs is based on Spencer Jones’ designs for wrought iron fencing around city parking lots. In the end, a visitor to town might not notice every element, but the coherence of the designs, materials, colors and styles will communicate an aesthetic sensibility, a sense of purpose and a welcome that will reflect well on Northfield.


    October 31, 2007
  7. I like the poles and signage designs in and of themselves, but don’t get the
    inherent connection between the town and them, even though I remember a description given which ties in the river. I also have a slight objection to the more or less masculine nature of the work, with no feminine balance, unless you count the actual thru way as such.

    November 1, 2007
  8. Griff Wigley said:

    Randy, thanks for the update and explanation. Helps a lot.

    Is there or will there be a webpage where the whole streetscape project/rationale is explained in detail? I think it would especially help to have more info on the historical tie-ins to the old bridges with old photos.

    November 4, 2007
  9. Randy Jennings said:

    I am not aware of any plans to create such an archive, but we (Neuger Communications Group) have only been involved in the wayfinding project, and can’t speak to the direction of the overall streetscape program. The effort to tie the various streetscape elements together through architectural motifs was already on the table as a goal of the project when we became involved, so I can’t even tell you who had the original idea. Maybe Howard Merriam, maybe John Slack at Bonestroo, maybe Spencer Jones, maybe Joel Wallinski, or maybe it came out of the whole streetscape task force. We simply moved it forward by using Spencer’s fence design as the general shape of the wrought iron caps on the signs. Whether the fence design came before the arches, or vice versa, I couldn’t say…


    November 4, 2007
  10. Christine Stanton said:

    Is the rounded stair canoe landing part of the final plan? In one picture it shows straight stairs, but I like the rounded ones shown in the appendix. They would even be a nice place to sit and enjoy the river. The idea of a canoe landing is exciting! I wish someone would open a rental place that would also transport you upstream. 🙂

    It would be neat to have a sign that talked about the history of the Cannon River originally being named the “Canoe River” somewhere near the landing. Maybe we could then consider it an investment in “human capital,” as it would be educational.

    November 13, 2007
  11. Jerry Bilek said:

    my understanding from the presentation is that nothing is final at this point. The plans are there to bring feedback. The consultant did stress the desire to make the rive accessible via stairs.

    November 14, 2007
  12. Christine Stanton said:

    Griff, Is there any other way to view the final streetscape plan? In both the pdf and the slideshow options, the budget is too small to read. I would prefer not having to print it out to read it.

    November 14, 2007
  13. Griff Wigley said:

    Christine, you’re right, that Appendix H starting on p. 86 is very small print. But most PDFs, including this one, allow you to increase the magnification of any page. The budget pages start to become readable at 150%. Try that and let me know if how it goes.

    November 14, 2007
  14. The signs could certainly be useful, but that prototype is pretty awful-looking. I don’t like the separation of brands between the City of Northfield and Explore Northfield™.

    I’d much prefer something utilitarian with the city’s logo or no logo at all.

    November 14, 2007
  15. Terre Dunivant said:

    The most important issue with good wayfinding signs is visibility. They’ve gotta look good too, and reflect the story of the city. But because the most common disability involves vision, the ADA is specific about good visibility — size, contrast, type style, lighting… (ADA regulates indoor signage and parking but not trail or wayfinding as yet).

    The problems I see with this sign include:

    – Reverse type. White type over color tests harder to read than dark type on light background.

    – Contrast. Not nearly enough between type and background. The background colors are nice but too soft. Again, visibility.

    – Serif fonts. Serifs are the lines on letters, as in this text here (comment titles are sans serif, or without). They chose a good serif font as far as that goes, but the different line thicknesses in most serifs increase reading difficulty — especially at speed, which is why most traffic signs use a sans serif font.

    – Connector rings. They are distracting because they are far too prominent and the holes interfere with the text. Another visibility issue

    – Arrows. They are not distinguished enough. From not so far, they will look like blobs to most people. I recommend arrows with angled heads and stems.

    What I like:

    – Frame. I haven’t studied Northfield history, but this framework symbolizes hardworking industrial and perhaps calls to mind a local bridge or other landmark – ? Anyway, very cool and enduringly hip, as long as industrial is the story of Northfield you want to tell. When I first saw it I thought Pittsburgh, any steelbelt town (no offense). And if they did actually make the frames out of pipe, double-cool because it’s sure to save money.

    – Icons. Good call using standard restroom icons. Everyone will be grateful for those at some point.


    I think this sign should go back to the drawing board, mainly to fix the numerous visibility issues. I would guess the designers may not have much experience with wayfinding signage and haven’t studied some important conventions, such as font style (Meta is great, highly readable), font size needs based on distance and rate of travel (dictating to some degree the size of the sign), etc.


    Do the squint test. Weak elements drop out and you can see the flaws that affect visibility. Notice how the Historical Society font is bigger but weaker than its subhead? Add poor vision of some visitors, poor lighting (overcast, twilight), too much distance or street speed, fading (consider HPL) and dirt/pollution, and you’ve got some things to overcome to make sure your wayfinding signs do their job for years to come.

    October 26, 2008

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