Abstract for paper delivered at Beyond the Margins symposium on experimental typography Clare College Cambridge 12 September 2009

As we walk or travel, we either notice or ignore messages and markings lying at our feet, or alongside our motorways, streets, paths, tracks and lanes.

Some have immediacy, while others live on beyond their relevance as totems of place and memory. In collecting essentially random messages and markings I plan to piece together a series of narratives that give new meanings to these totems. Language plays a part in signifying meaning, as do image, type, pictograms and codes. The often abbreviated or truncated messages and cryptic marks hold information to be unbundled, deciphered and acted upon.

My observational methodology will seek to identify the different categories of messages (eg identifying, informing, instructing, directing, promoting, subverting) and the different forms of markings. To help unbundle and decipher these elements, I will identify the authors or mark makers (eg transport, utility, civic, commercial, community, individual).

My investigation will reveal hidden stories, sub-texts and interpretations that for the most part we barely notice, but are nevertheless part of our layered lives and histories. The surface is only one dimension: tracing roots and juxtapositions of text and image we can study the dimension of time (when created), of space (where they are situated relative to people and their movements) and the question of authorship (from legally binding notices to anonymous graffiti).

My aim is not, necessarily, to reach any conclusions – but even this is possible – but to draw attention to the unsung poetry of our environments and what might be the implications for our cultural history and for future planning and design policy.