Alnwick Playhouse

Opened in 1925, Alnwick Playhouse was originally a cinema and music hall. A £3 million, 17-month restoration transformed the three-floor venue into a welcoming hub at the heart of the community. The Playhouse, complete with improved cafe space, new library, meeting room, visitor information centre, studio hub and box office features new inclusive signage symbols.

Working with:
Client: Alnwick Playhouse Trust
Architect: JDDK
Interior design: Ward Robinson
Contractor: Northern Bear
Branding: Courage Creative

The project timeline:
July 2019: appointed by JDDK
October 2019: exterior signs completed
December 2019: interior and donor signage fitted
Jan 2020: Playhouse reopened


External signage on the Alnwick Playhouse
Illuminated letters at Alnwick Playhouse
External wayfinding design at Alnwick Playhouse
External door signage at Alnwick Playhouse
Illuminated signage at Alnwick Playhouse
Automatic door signage at Alnwick Playhouse

Alnwick Playhouse was the first building in England to use new inclusive symbols that have been tested by people living with dementia. It is also one of the first venues in the country to use the new All Disabilities symbol for its toilet signage. 

Dementia-friendly toilet signs at Alnwick Playhouse
Inclusive signage at Alnwick Playhouse
 An aerial view of seating at Alnwick Playhouse
Dementia-friendly directional signage at Alnwick Playhouse
Gallery signage at Alnwick Playhouse
Playhouse Bar at Alnwick Playhouse
Playhouse Bar toilet signage, Alnwick Playhouse
The auditorium from the rear at Alnwick Playhouse
Adopt-a-step iconic spiral staircase at Alnwick Playhouse
Donor wall signage at Alnwick Playhouse
Details of panel signage at Alnwick Playhouse
Traditional brass plaque seating signage by Picto
External illuminated signage at Alnwick Playhouse by Picto

What our client said:

“From the positive feedback and easy flow of audiences around the building, it is evident that we have got the signage right, it really does enhance the visitor experience. Our investment in the signage will continue to benefit our audiences of all age groups and abilities for years to come, and that makes us extremely proud.”  

Playhouse Manager | Jo Potts

Alnwick Playhouse

In 2019, Picto was awarded the contract to develop the wayfinding and signage scheme for the Alnwick Playhouse in Northumberland. The project saw us working with our friends at JDDK Architects, Courage Creative, and Ward Robinson. 

The Playhouse, a well-loved arts centre recognised as one of the leading small venues in the North of England, closed its doors in 2018 for the refurbishment to begin. 

On the first floor, the Playhouse now features a newly renovated events auditorium with an art gallery and Playhouse Bar, which features elegant interior design by Ward Robinson. The bar is being promoted as an evening destination in its own right.

 A rebrand gives the Playhouse modern appeal

The Playhouse has a new bold, modern and abstract brand, developed by Courage Creative. And it was the Playhouse itself that provided the inspiration, not just for the brand’s logo but for the overall refurbishment and design.

“The ‘A’ is positive and forward-thinking and may be perceived as a spotlight. The ‘P’ reflects the curves of the building both inside and out.”

Playhouse Manager, Jo Potts

Wayfinding design for cultural projects

The new Playhouse is now home to an interesting mix of places for customers to explore and enjoy. We developed a wayfinding scheme with directional signage to help visitors find their way around the newly reconfigured venue. 

The Bauhaus-inspired Avant-Garde Gothic typeface is a consistent element throughout the wayfinding scheme. The typeface works to unite the venue’s spaces, which have been all been given very different treatments.

Introducing dementia-friendly signage with new inclusive pictograms 

Alnwick Playhouse Trust recognised that older theatre-goers and people living with dementia are an important part of their audience. Because of this, they were keen to incorporate dementia-friendly signage into the Playhouse renovation.

“We are delighted that, through consultation with Picto, we were offered the latest expert advice on signage colours, font size and positioning. We certainly did benefit from Sarah’s experience and passion on signage, it became so important to offer the best signage for our budget to future proof our building.”

Playhouse Manager | Jo Potts

We used new inclusive symbols, designed by Studio LR and funded by the Life Changes Trust around the theatre’s communal spaces and main thoroughfares. The symbols, which have been tested by people living with dementia, feature around the library, the cafe, and the lifts – alongside the new All Disabilities symbol on the toilets. 

The new inclusive symbols rewrite the rules on pictogram design, going from passive, very flat graphic and stylised 2D images to a slight 3D element. They also place figures with details like necks and feet in settings with rooms and floors where each frame actively tells a story. The new symbols are available for use on all Picto projects

Using new dementia-friendly toilet signs

Alnwick Playhouse is the first venue in England to use the inclusive symbols, including dementia-friendly toilet signs. Their use is going to become very relevant when plans to update the DDA to incorporate conditions of the mind come into play. 


The £3.3 million Alnwick Playhouse restoration project was funded by a £2.5 million contribution from Northumberland County Council and a further £800,000 of funds which were raised by the Playhouse.

We worked closely with the Trust to create a range of signage elements that would both acknowledge the generosity of their sponsors and tie in with the building’s wayfinding design.

In what was a first for us, we developed signage panels for stair risers. The risers now feature on the Playhouse’s iconic spiral staircase where sponsors have been invited to join the Trust’s ‘Adopt-a-Step’ scheme in support of the venue.

In the cafe, we met the client’s vision for a feature wall to display individual donor plaques with an easily-repeatable tessellating honeycomb design. This method of display means that new plaques can be added to the collection as new donations are received.

In the Playhouse auditorium, we attached traditional engraved brass plaques to the chair backs to dedicate specific seats to their sponsors.

The historic Alnwick Playhouse reopened to the public in January 2019, with a weekend of celebratory events.

“The Playhouse has become the arts-centre that we have always aspired for and will continue to engage the community for years to come. It is a wonderful example of how great architecture, lighting, design and signage can elevate a community space to look and feel amazing to be in.”

Playhouse Manager | Jo Potts