Central Park presented a new face this weekend to visitors who arrived as Tropical Storm Irene made its way up the coast:
That is the typeface used on more than 1,500 new signs that have sprouted around the park this summer, as the Central Park Conservancy tries to stake an ever-stronger claim in the public’s eye to the 843 acres of parkland under its management.
The appearance of white Titling Gothic letters on a sprightly yellowish-green background is supposed to convey more of an informal than a dictatorial stance. Except, of course, when a tropical storm is coming.
“Park signs are traditionally prohibitive — a lot of ‘Don’t do this, don’t do that,’” said Douglas Blonsky, president of the Central Park Conservancy. “The primary purpose of our new signs is to help visitors have as rich an experience as possible in the park – we’re telling them: ‘Do this! Try this!’”
Informational signs identify popular features nearby and provide a telephone number through which visitors with cellphones can learn a little bit more. (At the Alice in Wonderland statue, Whoopi Goldberg told me that the verses inscribed around the base were the favorites of Margarita Delacorte, in whose memory the sculpture was given. I had not known that.)
New signs appear at the beautiful bridges and arches of the park, making it possible to tell Driprock from Huddlestone. Larger signs, devoted to whole areas of the park, provide locator maps that are easy to understand and will be even more helpful when all the “You Are Here” arrows are affixed to them.
All is not sweetness and light, however. There are plenty of enforcement signs, too, underscored in many cases by pictograms. “With so many international visitors, they’ve become our way of hurdling language barriers,” said Dena Libner, associate director of public relations at the conservancy. The “Quiet Zone” sign at Bethesda Terrace includes a legal citation, she said, “to clarify that this is not a subjective preference of the Central Park Conservancy” but rather a “city-determined code of conduct.”
My favorite pictogram is one I spotted at the Harlem Meer. Nominally, it prohibits dogs in the water. But in the primeval spirit of the northern park, I prefer to think that its meaning may be: “No Viking Dragon Boats Permitted to Attack Here.”
Typically, the primary message on the signs is centered and printed in uppercase and lowercase letters. At the bottom of each sign is a white band on which the conservancy’s logo appears alone or, in the case of enforcement signs, along with the logo of the Department of Parks and Recreation, which is responsible for enforcing rules and regulations.
“Conservancy Green” is the background color, Ms. Libner said. An analysis performed by City Room on the computer in its living room disclosed that Conservancy Green — if expressed as a four-color “CMYK” printing formula — would have the following values: cyan (blue-green), 52 percent; magenta, 1 percent; yellow, 89 percent; and black, 2 percent.
Signs are printed on a high-density PVC board known as Sintra, one-quarter-inch or one-half-inch thick. They range in size from 10 by 18 inches to 17 by 30 inches. Scott Johnson, the former director of communications and branding at the conservancy, designed the signs, with Greg Shutters, the conservancy’s multimedia producer. They took cues from the overall rebranding campaign by McGarryBowen.
But the man who has arguably done the most to change the look of Central Park’s signs — David Berlow, of the Boston type foundry Font Bureau, the designer of Titling Gothic — knew nothing of his role until City Room reached out to him last week. Needless to say, he was delighted.
“I can see straightaway how well it fits,” he said, after looking over photographs sent to him by e-mail. “In addition to being well selected, both in terms of family and style, the compositions are wonderful. And the green, white and black color schemes of the signs seem to totally fit the park’s need for quiet and consistent — though sometimes insistent — messages.”
“None of the styles of Titling Gothic exude the kind of authoritarian insistence of Helvetica, which I’m sure was considered in the selection process,” Mr. Berlow said. “I’m not one of those Helvetica-haters as some are, but I’m sure many people will agree that this is a more apt selection for a project like this.”