Create comfort and consistency for customers: The wayfinding design process is about guiding and supporting your visitors when they come to your organisation. The right signage helps your visitors to discover a space on their own, instead of forcing them to ask for help or struggle without assistance.
The Complete Guide to Wayfinding and Directional Signage
You may well take them for granted, or not think about them very much, but you use wayfinding and directional signs just about every day. Without them, navigating around buildings, built-up areas, events or outdoor spaces becomes much harder. Have you ever walked into an unfamiliar building, office complex, or shopping centre, and somehow naturally ended up where you needed to be? It’s more than likely that you were supported by effective wayfinding signage.
While it’s easy to overlook wayfinding as simply an element of “environmental design”, where companies use signage and imagery to guide customers in a physical space – it’s also so much more than that.
The most effective wayfinding signage should be a direct extension of your brand’s personality. Whether it’s a novel design that shows the unique, fun nature of your organisation, or cutting-edge solutions that demonstrate your expertise; wayfinding has a direct impact on how people think or feel about your organisation.
What is wayfinding signage?
Wayfinding signage is the tool that people use to navigate a space or orient themselves within a physical environment. It also solves the questions you tend to ask yourself:
- Where am I?
- Am I close to where I need to be?
- How did I get here?
- How do I get somewhere?
At the very heart of it, wayfinding signage is about navigation but can introduce a brand’s unique tone of voice, contribute to storytelling, and invoke the emotions of your visitors. Wayfinding signage can be incorporated into a strategy that helps to promote a stronger user experience for organisations. In the modern world, user experience and ease of use is king.
Let Wayfinding and Directional Signage Help You
Build brand strength: Working collaboratively with Signs Express, we can design clear and effective wayfinding solutions that deliver the required information alongside the company personality and message.
Differentiate yourself: With wayfinding signage, you can reinforce to visitors that you run a focused business that stands out from competitors by not using off the shelf solutions but utilising bespoke designs.
What are the different types of wayfinding systems?
No one enjoys getting lost or feeling confused and out of their comfort zone. With effective wayfinding design, organisations can respond to customer pain points before they emerge. However, you will need to decide what types of wayfinding systems you require. If you are unsure, our experienced team are happy to guide you. Most of the time, the wayfinding design process will include a combination of some of the following signage solutions.
1. Wayfinding signage for identification
Identification is the most common type of wayfinding signage. They tell users when they have arrived at their destination and serve as general wayfinding landmarks. Need to get your bearings? Identification signage is there for you. If you’re looking for Sales and you keep seeing signs for Human Resources, you know you’re in the wrong place. Make identification signs uncluttered and straight to the point. What does the sign signify? Someone should understand it in seconds.
- Door plaques (nameplates to room names)
- Departmental markers (Accounting and Finance; Sales)
- Landmark signage (donor plaque; historical marker)
2. Wayfinding signage for direction
Directional signage helps people get to where they’re going, like an invisible hand guiding them from wherever they are to their destination, one step at a time. They’re best used at junctions and areas without a clear traffic flow. Anyone unfamiliar with their surroundings benefits from diverse directional signage. It can be as simple as a sign at each junction sending people left or right. However, it may be as comprehensive as coloured floor stickers leading people directly to their destination. Continuity is key for directional signage. If a person becomes lost anywhere between two points using directional signage, it’s immediately invalidated.
- Junction signage (left to till; right to an exit)
- Coloured floor graphics (differentiating between departments such as blue for Marketing; red for Sales)
- Directory signage (8th floor; HR department)
3. Wayfinding signage for information
Whereas identification signage marks a particular area, informational signage should give details of the overall facilities. These signs give users the supplemental information required while navigating and are best placed in an area with broad exposure. Receptions, waiting rooms and building entrances are popular examples. Signage should answer questions before they’re asked. Where are your toilet facilities? How late are you open? Do you have a lift? Informational signs should be universally understandable at a glance, symbols provide an ideal solution for this.
- Amenities and accommodations (free Wi-Fi; stairs)
- Facilities signage (bathrooms; exits; cafe)
- Business information (opening hours; address)
4. Wayfinding signage for regulatory purposes
Regulatory signage is a proactive form of wayfinding, focused on safety, liability concerns and the setting of boundaries—what is and isn’t acceptable in your facilities. It’s used to establish and reinforce rules, safety standards and privacy expectations. Regulatory signage is generally big and bold. No frills—only a clear, concise, prominent message. A “No Parking” notice outside helps to keep operations running smoothly.
- Rules and regulations (no smoking; no ball games)
- Compliance standards (ADA accessibility; high voltage sign)
- Access control (no entry beyond this point; employees only)
Helpful hints for wayfinding solutions
Combining fun with functionality
Functionality is the essence of wayfinding systems. A simple journey is what users want, however, just because something is functional, doesn’t mean it can’t be fun too. Great examples of this are:
Projected arrows on the floor are simple, effective, and easy to understand. Combined with additional signage, they help to contribute to a streamlined shopping experience for customers.
A colour-coded series of paths that lead to different areas of your building help to keep your customers on track, while tapping into the benefits of colour psychology.
Unique branded photos and one-of-a-kind images highlight the nature of your company and could even give people a quick introduction to your team members.
Themed wayfinding signage make your directional systems more compelling and remind your audience of what your organisation is all about – like a movie theatre using signs in the shape of film reels.
Simple symbols and accessibility
When customers visit a new or unfamiliar destination, the first thing they want is simplicity and clarity. When looking for a toilet, users want to see the relevant icons that have become universally recognised, this may be a symbol identifying baby changing for example. A good wayfinding design process uses the perfect combination of symbols and text to direct your visitors.
Declutter the decision points
When it comes to creating your wayfinding systems, it’s worth remembering that less is more. Wayfinding isn’t just about adding signage to every wall so that your customers never feel lost. Too much signage in one space can add to the confusion that a visitor feels. The ‘decision points’ in a physical structure are the junctions where your customers need to decide where they’re going next; obvious points include stairwells, entrances, exits and lifts. Let the Signs Express experts help you map the decision points in your organisation.
Never miss a branding opportunity
Wayfinding signage needn’t just be about helping users get from ‘A to B’ but in the right situation wayfinding signage can make up an important element of your visual identity; making sure visitors understand what makes your organisation unique.
Discover your wayfinding definition
Sometimes, it’s easy to overlook the role that graphic design must play in our day-to-day lives. However, the truth is, without the branding efforts of creative organisations, you’d have a lot more trouble finding the restroom, navigating museums and exploring unfamiliar buildings.
Wayfinding might not be considered the most exciting part of branding or the thing that today’s companies think about first when they begin to look for signage partners to support their campaigns. However, when it’s used well, a wayfinding strategy can help you to map the path to success.
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