Bristol asks Mace & Menter to support tourism wayfinding strategy

30 April 2021 3 min. read

Bristol’s Legible City initiative was ushered in to make life easier for visitors looking to find the city’s historic sites in the mid-1990s – but two decades on, it is in need of an upgrade.

First established in 1996, the Bristol Legible City initiative was conceived by Bristol City Council and City ID in order to help people experience the city. The scheme included a single stylistic identity, signage and information to help visitors find cultural and historic sites around the city.

The direction signs, on-street information panels with city and area maps, printed walking maps, visitor information identity and arts projects proved a success – and it is now considered a foundational part of the city’s welcome, while being replicated around the world. However, Bristol’s hardware has barely been touched for the best part of 20 years, and the local authorities believe it is in need of an upgrade.

Bristol asks Mace & Menter to support tourism wayfinding strategy

To that end, Bristol City Council has tapped service design consultancy Mace & Menter to help determine where investment should be made to improve guiding people around the city. On top of reviewing the existing maps and signage, this also saw the Council ask Mace & Menter’s research team to consider the visitor’s whole experience of navigating Bristol, from multiple perspectives.

Using a mix of research methods, including observational research, in-depth interviews and surveys with visitors, locals, business owners and the organisations set up to represent them, the Mace & Menter team set out to understand the city from the perspective of visitors. That research ultimately found that while visitors can easily find their way to areas which have been recommended to them, they have no way of knowing where to go next.

Linking to this, business owners feel they could be better supported in addressing the ‘where next’ issue. Organisations wanted better linkages between “the beating hearts of the city,” while looking for the city to take a stronger role in transforming public spaces into welcoming, bustling thoroughfares.

Commenting on the findings, Bristol Legible City Project Manager, Nat Roberton, said, “All of this falls solidly into Legible City’s remit and is a far cry from the concerns at the beginning of the project. The team started with the possibility that the scheme had outlived its usefulness and ended with a vision for Bristol’s Legible City scheme that will return it to its visionary origins.”

Despite the prevalence of smartphones, Mace & Menter also found that visitors relied heavily on the on-street wayfinding system to find their way around. Meanwhile, those who used Google Maps tended to have a much harder time trying to find their way around, as for example, that app does not necessarily recommend the most scenic route or how to cross as few four-lane roads as possible. As a result, the Council will now be developing digital mapping products that will allow users to get a live view of what’s going on in Bristol, and how to access the city’s events and destinations via their phones/devices.

Local economy

Elsewhere, the outline plan for the future of the project will be to support the local economy through encouraging visitors and residents to explore and rediscover Bristol’s cultural heritage and retail offering. Bristol City Council will be doing this by upgrading the on-street signs to feature illuminated, updated mapping highlighting what the city has to offer. In addition, the popular, free paper map of the city will be re-designed and re-issued to help people find their way around by foot and bike.

Sam Menter, Founder and Managing Director at Mace & Menter, stated, “Crafting a public space and wayfinding system for Bristol will be an ongoing journey, but the Legible City team now has a solid, evidence-based foundation for the recommendations it puts forward and decisions it will go on to make.”