Signs for the Future

OCT 15, 2021 | PORTLAND, OR

How Audiences Interact With Signs

Read the signs. Signs have always been guiding us. Street signs tell us cautionary tales about upcoming hazards. Signs next to paintings inform us about what we’re viewing. And museum signs tells us where to go next. And Portland Parks took the lead with new signs.

This must be a sign that we should be talking about signs.

Studies found signage in parks increased activity and park visits by 7-12% ( When people had more obvious signs for activities in the park, they were more likely to participate. That’s the difference quality signage can do to enhance user experience.

And signs don’t just incentivize people to stay longer, they also tell a story. The right design can contribute to a sense of place, nurture local pride, and stimulate learning (

Gateway Green | Entrance Sign | Portland, OR

Most parks receive funding based on visitation, so increasing visitor retention is key.

Visitors leave with memorable experiences that they will always associate with their experience. For many parks, this is key feedback needed for park longevity and success: a purpose to be maintained.

“Park size was not significant after controlling for other related factors in the model. Supervised activities and onsite marketing were significantly related to increased park use and MVPA person hours.”

Portland Parks vision was simple: signage that would help guide people through the parks with ease. Easy to navigate for newcomers while blending into the environment. Lead Designer, Sparks + Sullivan, researched park goals, design inspirations, and created signs that would achieve success. Together, they would work to heighten the guest experience.

Leach Botanical | Wayfinding Signage | Portland, OR

Original Owner John Leach used blackened metal to decorate the garden space. To show appreciation to his craft, the welding on the new signs needed to be seamless.


Leach Botanical has been a hidden gem in Portland since 1972, a garden built from the love and passion of Joan and Lilla Leach.

Part of a sweeping 2019 update, Leach Botanical went through a total transformation. With a new tree walk, new foliage, and new signs, a master plan was launched to make Leach Botanical blossom.

Sparks+Sullivan gathered in depth research on the needs of park quests, volunteers, and staff. Each person surveyed brought a unique experience and need, something that Sparks + Sullivan utilized in the final design.

“We think about how to extend their visits beyond just this first visit; thinking about how to make them come back, or to contribute to the park,”

Ryan Sullivan, Sparks+Sullivan

Leach Botanical inspires a sense of stepping back in time, and it was important to marry that with modern renovations. Sparks + Sullivan took inspiration from John Leach’s metalwork; signs constructed with aluminum plates and a black Pantone powdercoat. This would be the first step in combining the conflicting aesthetics.

To add a touch of modern design, Sparks + Sullivan focused on clean, seamless welding to show the advancement of capabilities. ACME lead welder, Logan Smaka, said, “It doesn’t look like it, but the tubes are actually notched… Each notch had to be welded together consistently or you would end up with a crooked sign.”

RELATED:  Zion National Park gets new signage for their Visitor Center that showcases the unique attributes of the Park.

Leach Botanical | Entrance Map | Portland, OR

Leach Botanical used clean, distinctive icons to guide visitors throughout the park. Carefully cut, these graphics required precision.

In the following months of it’s reopening, Leach Botanical has seen an influx of positive reviews, and has been featured on a variety of news stations. What was once a hidden gem has truly blossomed into a destination spot for all of Portland.

Gateway Green | Entrance Sign Close Up | Portland, OR

Although Gateway Green is part of the Portland Park’s brand, Designer Sparks+Sullivan tweaked minor brand elements to let the signs be as unique as the park.


Gateway Green is one of the newest park additions to Portland, cleverly utilizing the space between two major highways.

Gateway Green first welcomed a bike trail in June 2017 later adding revisions in 2020. Gateway Green is able to provide a place to enjoy a high energy bike ride in the comforts of the city.

Gateway Green | Skills Park | Portland, OR

The Gateway Green signage was assembled with custom brackets. Although most visitors wouldn’t notice this small detail, it kept the signs consistently branded.

Signage needed to be light and friendly; something that would maintain Portland Parks branding but be unique in design, just like the park. Sparks + Sullivan created designs that incorporated lively colors and simple icons that could easily be remembered from the trail guide. Information signs relayed difficulty levels and guidelines with accompanying aerial photos to keep them memorable and fun.

RELATED: Safari inspired signage at Topeka Zoo invite guests to fully immersive themselves in the African exhibits.

A unique attribute to this project was the use of Juniper as posts for signage. Suggested by Ross Swanson of Portland Parks, Lead ACME builder, Greg Fish, said, “The selection of materials was the most important part.

Juniper is the best material to go with if you’re not wanting Cedar; rot retardant as well as bug repellent, Juniper is just the best pick.” Sparks + Sullivan added that the Juniper was beautiful, the material sourced was incredible and glad ACME had the connections to get it.

Gateway Green has reopened in the recent months, and bike lovers have been flocking to it for an escape from their homes.

“So often design comes as an exercise in aesthetic and what is interesting to the designer, but for us, we try to ground our work in the needs of the people; rooted and guided by the challenges visitors experience,”

Ryan Sullivan, Sparks+Sullivan

Portland Parks understood the importance of having signage in their parks and took the time to develop the story.

Signage can often be an afterthought. Afterall, it’s just a sign, how hard can it be? But when you start to understand how much a sign can change audience engagement, it’s no longer an afterthought—it’s a must.

Gateway Green | Two Trails Diverge | Portland, OR

Instead of using Cedar in the construction at Gateway Green, we opted to use sustainable-sourced Juniper. Juniper is the perfect material to use for exterior signages if you’re wanting the same benefits of Cedar.

For Portland Parks, new signs mean a way to welcome visitors and encourage activity. It means they can provide more opportunities for the people who visit their location. They can foster a feeling of community that people remember and return to.

For Sparks + Sullivan, new signs mean a way to showcase the impact of using a holistic approach in design theory. To build on their understanding of audiences and provide impactful experiences for their clients.

And even for us, new signs mean a way to demonstrate how much we care about each project. Sign projects aren’t something you can throw together. They require just as much care as any other project out there.

If you haven’t been reading the signs, you should really start!

Read more about Sparks + Sullivan at their website: . If you want to know more about what ACME can do for you, send us an email at or give us a call at 503.335.1400.

Thank you for taking the time to read this article, and let us know we can improve.

Dream. Craft. Captivate.

© Gateway Green photos by Micah Fischer