Paris Plages 2008
Sunbathers enjoy a view of the Conciergerie.

The dump trucks arrived last week, depositing tons and tons of sand on the main artery through central Paris. The palm trees were delivered over the weekend, along with the chaises longues, the umbrellas and the foosball tables. The swimming pool on the banks of the Seine was built in a matter of days, and the plaza in front of city hall has overnight become a miniature golf course.

Yes, friends, Paris Plages opened this week, replacing a mile-long stretch of riverside highway with a beach and boardwalk for the next month.

Paris Plages - Sand beach
Parisians happily embrace the beach illusion at Paris Plages.

Paris Plages is a willful and whimsical reimagining of the urban environment here. It’s remarkable how readily Parisians accept the illusion that the Riviera has landed in their backyard. Suddenly, central Paris is full of bikinis and sun worshippers. Children bury each other in sand while old-timers play boules a few meters away.

What particularly struck me, though, was how a variety of design elements help to signal the transformation from mundane to playful in more subtle ways, too. The designers of the signs and collateral for Paris Plages tweaked familiar icons, giving them a breezy, impish vibe.

Standard restroom pictograms relax into suave and curvy silhouettes. The martini-glass icon for bars and cafés is replaced by a mai tai, complete with cocktail umbrella. In my personal favorite, even the cops get a happy makeover, with a jaunty police cap and a whistle. Everyone and everything, the icons imply, are more at ease at Paris Plages.

Paris Plages poster

Hey, feed reader: Click through to the actual page to see the image gallery of these icon designs.

The icons’ retro script typography builds on the broader branding of this year’s Paris Plages, which features a graphic look that reminds me of old Air France print campaigns. This connotation with the golden age of travel offers a comforting whiff of vacation nostalgia to those of us who won’t escape the city this summer.

These are all small touches, but they reminded me that quiet design interventions can have useful impact even in the din of a brouhaha like Paris Plages. Subtle, considered changes to everyday signs and symbols carry meaning. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have a few dump trucks full of sand to emphasize the point, too.

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