Wayfinding signage presents us with a paradox – if it’s doing its job effectively, it shouldn’t even be noticed by those who use it. Effective signage, therefore, is conspicuous only by its absence, when people realise how much they depend upon wayfinding systems in order to orient and traverse urban spaces. Despite the fact that we rely on signage every day, we remain largely unconscious of the impact that it has on our daily lives.
It would be a mistake to fall into a false sense of security, however. Like many things in the modern world such as smartphones or the internet, it may appear effortless and seamless on the surface, but there’s a huge amount of research, expertise and creativity occurring behind the scenes that goes into producing effective wayfinding systems.
Here we take an expert in-depth look at what wayfinding is, how it’s used and what constitutes an effective wayfinding system. Given the widespread applications of wayfinding in contexts as diverse as airports, hospitals, city centres, universities and shopping malls, the answers to these questions are of note to relevant officials across the public, private and third sectors.
What is Wayfinding?
Wayfinding involves the process of traversing through a given space to a final destination. This process involves a series of steps in order for the traveller to get from where they are to where they want to be. The first step is to work out where one is; this orientation is then used to guide oneself through the space to one’s destination. Wayfinding systems and signage are employed to enhance this experience by providing a series of cues, both subconscious and overt.
These cues act to create nodes throughout the journey to streamline the passage through the space. As a result, the traveller can navigate from node to node with ease until they reach their final destination. For example, a person enters a shopping mall. They want to get to a store on the third floor in the left-hand wing of the building. The first node could be a sign indicating the direction of the stairs or lifts. The second node will be placed outside the lift on the third floor, and additional nodes may be required depending on the length and complexity of the remaining journey.
How is Wayfinding Signage Used?
We’ve all encountered simple directional signage before, but modern wayfinding systems frequently include other elements that play a supporting role to these directional signs. It makes sense that, in response to the growing complexity of the urban environment and the array of functions that particular buildings play within that environment, wayfinding systems should adjust to respond to these additional demands.
These other components that constitute a modern wayfinding system most commonly include ‘you are here’-style maps to assist travellers with orientation and to help them plan their next steps. These cartographic maps tend to be highly simplified, presenting only the minimum amount of information required to avoid information overload. This is a central principle of wayfinding signage – too much information can be just as harmful as not enough info.
As well as helping people to get to their chosen destinations, wayfinding can be used to encourage travellers to take particular paths that they may not have taken otherwise. This has applications in museums and galleries, for example, where exhibitions are curated to be viewed in a particular order. Wayfinding can be employed in these contexts to ensure that no exhibits are missed – a vital function considering the often circuitous layout of these buildings.
The same principle can be applied to urban centres or historic towns to guide visitors to ‘hidden gems’ that may be out of the way. An increase in local business footfall can also be encouraged via strategic use of wayfinding systems.
How do Experts Create a Truly Effective Wayfinding System?
There are also other ancillary components designed for use in specific contexts alongside ‘you are here’ maps and common directional signs. These tend to be highly innovative, and include examples such as the use of coloured lines that run along the corridors of hospitals, where each colour refers to a particular ward. The same principle has even been applied in large corporate headquarters using brand-specific colours.
Indeed, including elements of branding across all aspects of the wayfinding system is a great and highly effective way to boost brand visibility. This has the corollary effect of ensuring that the positive customer experience that occurs as a result of using the wayfinding system is associated with your brand, leading to a boost in favourable customer perceptions of the given brand, as well as the space itself.
Providing this kind of innovation and creativity is vital to the effectiveness of a wayfinding system. Wayfinding signs, perhaps more than any other type of sign, are integrated conceptually with the environment in which they are placed due to their purpose of directing people through that environment. To be truly effective, then, they should also be integrated aesthetically. An expert can do away with simple arrow signs and create innovative directional cues, including use of lighting, colour and symbols to steer people to where they want to go.
In order for this to be successful the eyes of an expert are vital, particularly one with a background in manufacturing or implementation. These experts will possess intrinsic knowledge on the possibilities of fabrication and a clear understanding of what is viable and realistic.
Let’s Work Together
At The Sussex Sign Company we have decades of experience in the signage industry. In this time, our highly qualified team has accrued invaluable conceptual knowledge and had the opportunity to sharpen and finely hone our practical skills. We’d love to put our expertise to work to create an unparalleled wayfinding signage solution for your business, organisation or institution, so get in touch today to learn about the things we could achieve together. Call us on 01273 417057