The Importance of Storytelling: History, Heritage & Placemaking

Oxford Wayfinding Sign

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Great placemaking relies on really getting under the skin of somewhere. Acknowledging all that makes a place, well, a place. Whether that’s its past, its purpose, its buildings and spaces, its people; it all matters.

Every single place has a story, no matter how new, modern or simple it might appear on the surface. Wayfinding is about finding new and exciting ways to share a narrative with everyone who engages with the space, telling stories that encompass accounts of people, intentions, events and memory.

It’s about so much more than guiding people from point A to point B.

For us, the best wayfinding is about remembering what has made a place; reconciling past and present to create meaningful and engaging environments. It is about creating places that simultaneously suit their modern purpose, respect their past and educate new generations on the history, culture, and significance that brought us to where we are now.

History and heritage

Our approach to wayfinding is often to breathe new life into older places. Making somewhere valuable and fit for purpose in the modern day, but also revealing its history and heritage, enabling visitors to learn and identify a place’s past.

For many, our fondest memories are tied to a specific location. And our work is no different. Placemaking is more of the same but on a larger scale – uncovering layers of history and using these to inform future developments so that they directly connect the past to the present.


We have talked before about how wayfinding is primarily about user experience. It’s about creating an engaging experience through innovative, creative, and valuable communication and navigation tools, creating a juxtaposition of the useful with the cultural and historical, and creating a cohesive and consistent narrative for visitors.

We often look to a place’s past to inform our design process, to understand users’ movement and navigation while also telling a story and building a bigger picture. Every place should leave an impression: it’s more than simply having undertaken a journey, you want a visitor to understand and enjoy – even love a place.

As with all good things, effective placemaking comes with a greater purpose. And it is by drilling down into the very essence of a place, by reconciling its past and present that we can ensure the most appropriate placemaking design is achieved.

How we approach placemaking

We have been fortunate enough to assist in some wonderful projects steeped in so much powerful history. We have been able to instil so many stories of the past in modern, innovative spaces.

Take our work in the market town of Boston, for example. Drawing on the historic port’s relationship with the Pilgrims and their voyage on the Mayflower in 1620. We instilled all this history into our wayfinding solutions to unlock the town’s stories for visitors and to encourage them to explore all the rich heritage that shaped the town.

Or our mission to unlock Derby’s industrial heritage, instilling its identity and history of engineering into our wayfinding solutions.

In Oxford, the wayfinding concept built on the town’s association with having so many iconic views of significant historic buildings, from the design of the sign frame to the graphic interpretation of the town map.

In all cases, we sought to remain true to the core essence of the locations when establishing new solutions. We let the history and heritage inform our journey, not the other way around.

More recently, we have been brought on board for two projects in Ireland; one to help uncover Athenry’s heritage and culture tourism market and one to update the visitor experience of Carlow town. Both of these projects combine past and present to create memorable, rich, and valuable experiences for users of the spaces.

Every place has a history. And an aspect of our work that we take immense pride in is uncovering these histories for the everyday user. Whether it is a well-known story that permeates a location or a hidden history that proves essential to how a place came to be, we want all visitors to leave a place feeling more informed, aware, and connected. We want to create open, collective experiences that transcend time and make for a more engaging, personal experience for everyone.

At Placemarque, we take a user-centric, innovative approach to wayfinding and placemaking. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to making a place, so we draw on all its factors – past and present – when approaching our projects. If you want to find out more about what we can do for you, get in touch on 0161 241 3174.

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