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Too many signboards in Delhi but not enough clarity, 70% ‘wrongly placed’

Experts says most road signs in the capital are inconsistent and lead travellers nowhere, they fail to bring its pavements and junctions to life

delhi Updated: Jul 15, 2017 17:31 IST
Manoj Sharma
Signboards put up on a foot overbridge in Delhi. Experts say most signage in the city are wrongly placed and have bad design
Signboards put up on a foot overbridge in Delhi. Experts say most signage in the city are wrongly placed and have bad design(Vipin Kumar/HT PHOTO)

If you were a first-time visitor to Delhi, would you be able to find your way from Janpath to Khan Market? Or from the National Museum to the nearest Metro station?

The answer would probably be ‘no’. In fact even for Delhiites, the Capital, with its umpteen roads, lanes and by-lanes, can often be a vast, unnavigable maze. And the hundreds of signs placed overhead and on the sidewalks are unlikely to come to your rescue.

A recent study by Delhi-based Institute of Road Traffic Education said 70% signage on major roads of the city are wrongly designed and placed. Architects, urban planners and graphic designers say Delhi lacks an efficient wayfinding system, and most road signage are not in tune with the character of the city.

“Signage is what you see when you enter a city. In Delhi, highway signage has been adapted as city signage. Besides, the signs are inconsistent and lead you nowhere,” says Alpana Khare, a graphic designer who has worked as a consultant with Delhi Urban Arts Commission.

Well-known architect and urban planner AGK Menon, offers a similar view: “The Capital’s signage system is completely chaotic in terms of where a sign is, what is written on it, how it is written, and the colours used. There is no order. Just look around, every agency — municipal corporations, New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC), Public Works Department (PWD) — has its own signage. It fails to perform the basic task of communicating,” says Menon.

Most signage in Delhi were put up in 2010 in the run-up to the Commonwealth Games by NDMC and PWD. NDMC officials say their signage conform to the norms set by Indian Road Congress (IRC), an apex body of highway engineers in the country. Before that the city mostly had signage made of cement and concrete. “Most of our signage conform to IRC standards, but as they mostly serve the motorists,” said a senior NDMC official.

Abhimanyu Dalal, a well-known architect, whose works include urban design projects, including a redevelopment plan for Chandni Chowk, says there is a problem of plenty as far as signage in Delhi are concerned. “They are so many of them in different shapes and sizes that they only create visual pollution and confuse instead of help people find their way,” he says.

A signage in Rio.

Dalal says the city needs to create a wayfinding system, which is efficient, elegant and localised based on an understanding of the physical environment.

After all, signage is not meant just to guide people through the city, but also bring its pavements and junctions to life, enhancing their experience of the space.

“A pedestrian wayfinding system provides so much room for creativity. We need to understand that Mehrauli need not have the same signage as Lutyens’ Delhi. Instead of green and blue boards, there can be red standstone signage or engraved signage that suit the historic character of that part of the city. You can experiment a lot with post and panels,” says Dalal.

Understanding how wayfinding works
  • Wayfinding is an information system that helps people navigate a physical environment and enhance their understanding and experience of the space
  • They are developed on the basis of a comprehensive understanding of people and the environment they navigate
  • Kevin Lynch, an American urban planner in the 60s, is the man behind the concept of city legibility. He conducted a five-year-long study on how people take in information in the city
  • It was in this study titled — The Image of the City (1960) — that Lynch coined the term wayfinding and developed the idea of city legibility
  • Before the Olympics games, London launched Legible London, a pedestrian wayfinding system developed by TFL (Transport for London) to support walking journeys around the city
  • Unlike the West, where the city signage system is managed by transport authority, in Delhi different government agencies — MCDs, NDMC, PWD manage it
  • A recent study by Delhi-based Institute of Road Traffic Education said that 70% of the signages on major roads of the city are wrongly designed and placed
  • Experts say what Delhi needs is a wayfinding system based on comprehensive understanding of people and the environment they navigate

“Signage is part of a good civic design; Delhi can learn a lot from London in terms of developing and implementing a wayfinding programme,” says Manish Kumar, a city-based graphic designer.

Bristol, London and Rio de Janeiro are some of the cities that have developed new wayfinding systems. London’s wayfinding system called Legible London — based on comprehensive understanding of people and the environment they navigate — was launched on a trial basis in Bond Street and implemented across the city just before the games in 2012. It was developed in response to a study that said there were 32 separate pedestrian sign systems in central London, resulting in visual noise rather than reliable and coordinated information. The idea behind Legible London was to provide coordination across neighbourhoods and boroughs and integrate it with other transport modes.

In 2015, Rio also implemented a similar programme — Walk Rio — with over 500 signs and map kiosks across the city to cater to the city’s 12 million residents and 6 million tourists.

In fact, Kevin Lynch, an American urban planner in the 60s, is the man behind the concept of city legibility. He conducted a five-year-long study on how people take in information in the city. It was in this study titled — The Image of the City (1960) — that Lynch coined the term wayfinding and developed the idea of city legibility.

“An efficient wayfinding system is necessary for those who do not speak the local language. Chances are that I may lose my way in Delhi but not in Paris,” says Shivangi Mehta, a Delhi resident. “A city has to be legible for both residents and outsiders. And Delhi is far more complex than London and is growing at a breakneck speed. It is high time we developed a wayfinding programme that caters to not just motorists but pedestrians and cyclists also,” says Sudipto Ghosh, an architect who along with graphic designer Shimonti Sinha is credited with developing a first-of-its-kind cognitive DTC bus route of the city.

Siddhartha Das, a well-known graphic designer, who has worked on wayfinding and signage systems, says Delhi
Metro has a well thought out wayfinding system. “But if you walk out of Rajiv Chowk Metro station into Connaught Place, it is confusing. While Delhi’s signage system is better than most Indian cities, it needs regular vetting,” he says.