Ruins and historical sites with minimal visible remains can still attract visitors through creative storytelling. Even places often dismissed as having “not much to see” hold untapped potential for cultural tourism when their stories are brought to life. A “look-through sign” is one approach destinations can use to add depth and meaning where physical remains are scant.

What is a Look-Through Sign?

A look-through sign superimposes illustrations of what once stood in a place over a see-through panel on an interpretive display. It allows visitors standing in front of decrepit foundations or vague outlines to “look through” and view a replica of the original building, landscape or structures. Through detailed and historically accurate artwork, the sign transports people back in time to experience what cannot be seen with the naked eye.

Storytelling is Key

For a look-through sign to be effective, in-depth historical and cultural storytelling is paramount. Merely showing what once existed is not enough – the sign must bring the past to life by sharing stories of the people who lived and worked in that place. It should provide context about the significance of the site within the wider community or region. Vividly describing daily life, traditions, and turning points will help create an immersive experience for visitors and a deeper understanding and connection to local heritage.

Examples of Look-Through Signs

Daughter’s Tower, UK: This lonely stone tower is all that remains of a medieval abbey. A look-through sign overlaying the tower with illustrations of the full abbey complex tells the site’s story and transports visitors back 700 years.

Millawarra Homestead, Australia: Only chimney remnants survive at this 19th century farm. A sign uses period drawings to visualize the lush pastoral landscape and what the homestead once looked like populated with families and workers.

Battle of XYZ Site, USA: This Revolutionary War battle location in Rhode Island has no visible markers. A sign digitally inserts period scene of troops in combat amid accurate natural surroundings.

Developing an Effective Sign

To maximize impact, look-through signs should have the following elements:

  • Detailed and accurate historical artwork professionally produced
  • In-depth cultural stories that describe daily life, traditions and significance
  • Context about how the site fit into the local area’s history
  • Engaging text using descriptive language that transports readers
  • Durable materials and design suitable for outdoor/weather conditions
  • Placement where sign can overlay actual site remains/location
  • Upkeep and regular updates as new historical information emerges


With well-researched storytelling and imaginative signage approaches like look-through displays, even sites lacking substantial visible heritage can attract new interest. Cultural tourism is about engaging people with place, people and past. Where physical authenticity is limited, signs that breathe life into history can make the most of what scant remains there are to see. Interpretation brings meaning and improves experiences, thereby unlocking value in underutilized historic places.