New public notice signs from Atlanta's Department of City Planning.
Photo courtesy of Matchstic

A new seal, a new name, and most importantly, new signs that people will actually read.

Public notices about tree removal or zoning ordinances rarely catch the attention of the average person walking by them. That’s no longer the case in Atlanta.

Fed up with the cluttered and uninspiring signage coming out of his office, Tim Keane, Commissioner of Atlanta’s Department of Planning, decided to make a change.

Keane hired the Atlanta-based branding firm Matchstic to give the entire department a makeover. The firm was tasked with updating everything from the department’s name (formerly known as the Department of Planning and Community Development) to its official seal and signage.

“To me, when you saw the signs that we had before, what they said to you as residents was, ‘We don’t care a lot about this,’” Keane tells CityLab. “They’re hard to read, they kind of screamed, ‘This is a bureaucracy, good luck!’” he adds.

An example of one of Atlanta’s previous public notice signs. (Matchstic)

The previous signage system “appeared to be designed by lawyers,” says Blake Howard, the project’s creative director. “The language was hard to understand, jumping off the page at the same time. It wasn’t very visually appealing.”

The ethos of the rebranding is “To Be Clear is To Be Kind.”

“If we want to be kind to the public,” Howard says, “we want them to be able to understand what the purpose of the sign is.”

An example of a new public notice sign in Atlanta. (Matchstic)

Matchstic focused on establishing a hierarchy of information. Though much of the text itself couldn’t be altered for legal reasons, the creative team prioritized the most pertinent information with large fonts and scrapped what they could. Most noticeably, each sign has a single letter that features prominently depending on its purpose. For example, signs for tree removals or appeals have a large, bold ‘T’ while those for bike share stations have a ‘B.’ Details about the project, such as the date and location of a review meeting, are in a significantly smaller font.

“We want people… to clearly understand what type of sign it is so they know what’s happening in their neighborhood, or near their place of work, or in their community,” says Howard. He sees design as a crucial element of shaping and broadcasting a city’s voice, and hopes that other departments in Atlanta soon follow suit.

Though Keane says the Department of Planning will always want to collaborate with the private sector, he has recently created the Atlanta City Studio: an in-house design studio that will oversee all elements of design within the department. Keane hopes it will show residents that the city is committed to excellence.

“We can’t go to the private sector and say, ‘We want you to be exceptional,’ if we aren’t doing that,” he says. “We need to show that we’re thinking about these things [and] investing in quality.”

Feedback on the rebranding, according to Keane, has been overwhelmingly positive. “I’ve heard from residents of the city that they see [the signs] and smile,” he says. “We had one commenter say, ‘It makes me feel good about Atlanta.’”

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