Summer holidays full of sun, sand and … signs? No matter how hard I try to get away from design, when I go on holiday one thing that I can never resist is the signage of each place that I go. For me, signs set the tone of a place and are an endless source of inspiration.
Being in Barcelona for Primavera Sound 2016 was no exception. Spending the days in the city and nights at the music festival—which had a pretty impressive moving entrance sign—it was hard to walk down any street and not see some kind of amazing sign. The two main styles that stood out were the hand-painted and the mosaic tile signs.
You can’t beat a hand-painted sign. The craftsmanship that goes into them is so evident that they beat cheap vinyl signage any day of the week. If you are lucky enough to get up close to them, you can see the quality of the paint and the smoothness of the lines that only come with a lot of practise. You notice the way the colours have been built up and the choices that the sign writer has made, so that each one is completely unique and fitting for that particular place. I also love where you can spot a slight wave in the line or tiny imperfection, that gives it a bit of extra personality and shows it’s been done by hand and not printed out of a computer. If you see enough, you can even start recognising styles of certain sign writers, who are subtly covering the city with their art. It is a form of signage that has had a bit of a renaissance in recent years, so it was nice to walk the Catalan streets and spot the ones that have stood the test of time.
Tiled, mosaic signs on the other hand are not something that you see everywhere you go and are something that Barcelona is really good at. Peppered throughout the city, they connect the shop fronts to their history and the distinctive Catalan Modernisme (their equivalent to Art Nouveau) architecture that it is famous for. Some are made of larger tiles that have been painted. Others are made of tiny tiles that come together to form a sign that is both beautiful and very distinctive. Mainly featuring organic shapes, you can’t help but be impressed by how they are put together. They decorate all kinds of shops, from pharmacies to bakeries, like jewellery making them stand out from everything around them. Each square fits perfectly in its place and no two are the same whether they are a mixture of brightly coloured tiles, a more muted colour scheme or metallic tiles that shine in the sun.
As far as lettering and design goes even the pavements are worth a look! Walking around from time to time you will spot what looks like a manhole-cover at a glance, but is actually a brass plaque awarded to the oldest establishments for long-standing services to the city. They have charming script lettering on the brass and the rest of the surface is covered in icons, it’s worth getting in peoples’ way to have a good look!
When I go somewhere new I like to collect these signs. To see what made that place feel unique, how this medium is connected to local history and how each place has its own take on traditions that are seen around the world. Just hope you don’t get stuck behind me walking down the street!