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Sign of the Times: Communities Where We Work, Live, and Play

Branding, Community, Customer Spotlight, Design/Build

Since the beginning of hunting and gathering, people have relied on signs for information. Very early sign markers, often just a pile of stones, helped guide people traveling through the wilderness to find game or communities.

The Scots used rock cairns—Gaelic for “heap of stones”—as signposts to mark trails across the grassy moors. People living in Mongolia and the Andes Mountains used similar rock cairns to mark routes between villages and food supplies. 

Gradually, signs expanded to include marks left by hunters and wayfarers on rocks and trees. It’s why hikers today still rely on blazes along the Appalachian and other trails. As populations have increased, communities have grown, and technology has evolved, signage has similarly transformed. 

Signs have evolved over the centuries and decades into a nearly $38 billion industry. Regardless of their composition—gaslight to incandescent bulbs to neon and LED—signs combine imagery, words, lights, and even digital effects to create and support brands, provide directions, and now with electronic signs, communicate almost any kind of information.

Signage and the Growth of Mixed-Use Developments 

People use signs to navigate multi-use communities and mixed-use developments that have exploded in popularity. These developments—which include a range of businesses, attractions, and residential housing—answer a growing desire shared by many people to achieve a better work-life balance. When planned well, they can reduce traffic and pollution, since residents can walk or bike to all the places where they live, work, and play. 

These developments incorporate innovative strategies that support and drive multifunctional design. Signage solutions are a critical ingredient for elevating these live-work-play communities. They fulfill several important roles, including:

  • Drawing attention and patronage to the mixed-use developments
  • Emphasizing and supporting the branding and unique identities of each component within the community
  • Providing wayfinding, both internally and externally

To work well and blend seamlessly within spaces, signage requires a cohesive design. The signage package doesn’t require a lockstep identical look, but signage designs should complement one another to help maintain the community’s brand identity regardless of whether someone’s at work, at play, or at home. Good signage design reflects the community’s character and brings it to life. It enhances and complements the space, relaying information necessary for people to know without sticking out like a “sore thumb.”

Mixed-use communities have dictated other signage design changes, too. For example, it’s important to adhere to the community’s design code, and signage companies—like Metro—intimately understand how to adjust to signage regulations:

  • Sizes
  • Quantity
  • Style
  • Lighting 

Metro’s Sign Designs for Mixed-Use Projects

Metro has worked on several recent mixed-use projects, including large properties with a mixture of commercial tenants representing business and recreation and others offering the full work, live, play spectrum. 

The Landing

The Landing at Hudson Mills—a multi-tenant flex building—includes customizable suites for flex, office, retail, and warehouse companies. Housed over 3 acres in a renovated historical commercial mill, its tenants include a Crossfit gym, several bars and eateries, a chiropractor and other health and wellness practices, and more. 

Exterior Sign at The Landing in Nashua NH

Metro has worked on several signage projects at the Landing—including manufacturing and installing a curved sign at the building’s entrance. But one of its many innovative signage features includes a solar-powered free-standing sign—which the owners, Manzo Freeman Development, asked Metro to design, build, and install at the parking lot entrance to avoid the considerable expense of running power to the sign (trenching, repaving the lot, etc.).


Another mixed-use project on which Metro worked is Trio. Located within walking distance to the Newtonville Town Center, the Trio building includes a mix of apartment units, small-scale retail stores, and restaurants. Ownership team Mark Development’s goal was to use sustainable building practices—and the location’s close proximity to public transportation—to create an inviting place for people to live and play. Metro’s contributions included designing and installing an exterior signage package aligned with the brand identity and the surrounding community.


The Riverwalk mixed-use community in Lawrence, MA, includes nearly 4 million square feet of commercial, manufacturing, retail, and luxury residential spaces spread across 46 acres. Metro joined the project early in the planning stages to help strategize, build, and install the wayfinding design created by the Lupoli Creative and Facilities Teams.

The expansive package included signs designed to present a unified, consistent visual brand throughout the campus’s interior and exterior buildings. The plan included color-coded signs to match each building and provide yet another visual cue for residents, tenants, and visitors.

Creating a Great First Impression Through Signage

Generating buzz and maintaining enthusiasm in a mixed commercial/residential community requires an intricate blend of complex ingredients, one of which is signage. Whether unobtrusive or bold, signage can act as an emcee announcing mixed-use properties’ functions—and providing seamless wayfinding for visitors, residents, and employees. Additionally, a cohesive and stylish signage approach can add some extra WOW factor to a property’s curb appeal.

It’s exciting to know that signage plays such an integral part in a newer movement to build mixed-use communities specifically designed to cultivate and cross-pollinate energy, engagement, and entrepreneurship across those who live, work and play there.

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