Wayfinding is a set of experiences working in concert together to assist the user in orienting themselves and navigating to a specific destination.
Wayfinding Signage Design
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What is Wayfinding Design?
Especially important within the built environment, wayfinding provides visual cues to help guide people to their destinations with ease and comfort. Working in close collaboration with key stakeholders and design consultants, the process of crafting a wayfinding program starts with a careful flow analysis exploring how people move thru places. Following this discovery phase, a visual kit of parts that carries the brand voice is designed to match the user’s needs. The design process engages the user from varying perspectives to create a comprehensive wayfinding system that serves the community and evolves over time as user’s needs change.
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What is a wayfinding strategy?
The Wayfinding Profile
It’s much more than signage
All disciplines of design within the built environment must consider wayfinding as a key element of the user experience – planning, architecture, interiors, landscape, and lighting are all impacted by their relationship with wayfinding. Successful wayfinding design takes a multidimensional approach that includes all of the consultants working together with a common vision based on the principles of comfort and ease of navigation. By considering numerous experiential elements collectively a comprehensive wayfinding strategy can create a seamlessly integrated and intuitive navigation experience for individuals within any environment.
City Planning & Site Location
When a destination is located in close proximity to noteworthy landmarks, transportation hubs, or iconic attractions, it becomes easier for users to navigate successfully. This proximity allows for better spatial orientation and reduces the reliance on complex directions or extensive travel, enhancing the overall wayfinding experience.
Architecture & Interiors
Architecture and interior design can impact wayfinding by providing clear layouts and visually distinct features that help individuals navigate and orient themselves within buildings. Considerations for accessibility and universal design further enhance the wayfinding experience, ensuring that everyone can easily navigate and orient themselves comfortably.
Landscape & Lighting
Landscape architecture and carefully curated lighting design can also play crucial roles in shaping the wayfinding experience. Well-designed thoughtful landscapes can provide assistance with orientation and navigation with feature memorable elements. A properly planned lighting scheme enhances safety and visibility of the surroundings, making navigation much easier.
Signage & Graphics
As a critical piece of the wayfinding profile, signage and graphics fill gaps left by other areas of the built environment. Well-designed and strategically placed signage enhances navigation and improves the overall wayfinding experience by providing clear directions, identifying destinations, and conveying important information in a branded visual manner. Importantly, if the environment decodes itself, then there is less need for traditional wayfinding signage. The goal is not more signage, but better collective wayfinding elements.
Needs of the Build Environment
Human needs translated for the built environment
In Abraham Maslow’s 1943 book A Theory of Human Motivation he outlines a number of needs that build on each other….physiological needs, food, water, warmth, rest, safety, love & belonging, esteem, and self actualization. These can be reinterpreted for the built environment in the form of “Certainty, Variety, and Delight”. These three key human needs are a guide to developing a suite of elements that people are drawn to instinctively because they satisfy basic human needs that are desired subconsciously.
Maps, Arrows, Labels, Symbols
Certainty deciphers the environment for the user and primarily identifies uses, navigation, and directs traffic. One can let their guard down with the understanding of the environment and these elements of certainty provide assurance and comfort. All aspects of the wayfinding profile assist in creating certainty for the user.
Scale, Color, Pattern, Form
Variety keeps things interesting while providing a functional breakdown of the overall experience into smaller more intimate experiences. These varying areas denoted by differing elements, carry the same DNA origins, but help with the user’s cognitive mapping of an environment.
Sculpture, Art, Whimsy, Surprise
Delight is the fun part….it’s the colorful sculpture or mural or unexpected feature where people want to engage and experience on an emotional level. These landmark moments add to the wayfinding experience in subtle intuitive ways and typically inform the personality of the place through interpretation of various influences such as culture, community, history, and emotion.
“Structuring and identifying the environment is a vital ability among all mobile animals.” —Kevin Lynch
Where did the term wayfinding come from?
One can’t discuss wayfinding within the built environment without mentioning Kevin Lynch and The Image of the City where he shared that a city or space can be “classified into five types of elements: paths, edges, districts, nodes, and landmarks.” These elements acting at multiple scales facilitate clear movement throughout a place for vehicles and pedestrians. Wayfinding, which is truly everywhere in the built environment, becomes a critical component of navigation.
More on Kevin Lynch in Part 2 of our series: “What is Wayfinding?” ›
“The channels along which the observer customarily, occasionally, or potentially moves. They may be streets, walkways, transit lines, canals, railroads.” These channels provide the framework for wayfinding as they directly facilitate movement and connections.
What are the different types of Wayfinding?
Components of Wayfinding
Helping individuals identify and locate specific site, buildings, or room, these elements typically display names, numbers, or labels that allow for easy recognition and identification of desired destinations.
Providing specific instructions and pointing user towards different destinations, these wayfinding components ease navigation and indicate paths to follow and discover.
General information about the surroundings, landmarks, or points of interest help users understand their context, location, or culture and make informed decisions about their route, learning and discovering along the way.
Rules, regulations, or restrictions that individuals must follow in a particular area are important tools to provide information such as speed limits, parking restrictions, or specific instructions for accessing certain areas.
In concert with architecture and signage, the way softscape and hardscape are treated can aide in the wayfinding experience by creating memorable and tactile landmarks in the spaces between buildings.
The transition of wayfinding from day to night needs to be seamless and the way feature lighting elements can highlight a path, landmark, or decision making point, can be critical to the success of the holistic guest experience.
Art & Sculpture
Wayfinding tools do not only include traditional forms of signage, but properly place art and engaging elements create visual and intuitive clues to aide in comfortable navigation…and have some creativity and enjoyment along the way.
Collaboration with the architecture can provide intuitive integrated features that are equally as important to clear navigation as a sign and are seamlessly woven into the user experience… “take a left at the big red wall”.
A Four Part Series on Wayfinding
Part 1: It’s All About Human Needs›
Part 2: The City as a Model›
Part 3: Wayfinding is More Than Just Signage›
Part 4: What’s Next in Wayfinding›
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RSM Design focuses on research driven design to create comprehensive and timeless wayfinding systems that enhance the user’s experience and serve the greater good of the community.