2. Door Signs
The Complete Guide to

WAYFINDING AND DIRECTIONAL SIGNAGE

Have you ever walked into an unfamiliar building, office complex, or shopping centre, and somehow naturally ended up where you needed to be?

No? Well, it’s more than likely that you were supported by effective wayfinding signage: the hidden hero in the mundane to the most time-critical of everyday situations. These often-overlooked signage systems are responsible for keeping people on track the world over, and it’s when they’re working well that we hardly notice their presence.

It can be frustrating when you plan a journey in advance, arrive at the venue with time to spare only then to be confused by poorly designed signage – the cardinal sin of user experience. But beyond helping to create a seamless journey for people navigating a physical location, wayfinding signage is so much more than just an element of ‘environmental design’.

It also gives you the opportunity to influence how people think and feel about your organisation or business – whether by telling a story with a unique or novel design or demonstrating your expertise with a cutting-edge solution – and ultimately, make it more likely visitors will invest their time, emotions, and money in your brand.

So, let’s get started!

What will I learn in this guide?

  • What is wayfinding?
  • Why is it important to have a wayfinding strategy?
  • What are the benefits of wayfinding and directional signage?
  • What are the different types of wayfinding systems?
  • What are the different types of wayfinding signs?
  • How can I increase the accessibility of my wayfinding?
  • Key things to consider for successful wayfinding systems
  • FAQ

What is wayfinding?

Wayfinding is an umbrella term that describes the problem-solving process people go through when they need to navigate a physical space. Within this process, along with information gathering, landmarks, and environmental cues, wayfinding signage is one of the tools people use to both orient themselves and navigate successfully to their destination.

Wayfinding systems answer typical questions like:

  • 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 it can also introduce a brand’s unique tone of voice, contribute to storytelling, and invoke specific emotions in your visitors. It typically includes words and symbols that tell people where they are and how they get to their destination.

Directional signage is part of the wayfinding signage family but is distinguished by the inclusion of a ‘directional element’, such as arrows that tell people whether they need to turn left, right or carry on straight ahead.

Finger Posts Signs

Why is it important to have a wayfinding strategy?

If you’re wanting to revamp or introduce a new wayfinding system at your business, it’s important you don’t just replace existing signs with new ones that do exactly the same thing. It’s key to have a well-thought-out strategy to ensure you:

  • Evaluate whether your current system is meeting the needs of your visitors;
  • Identify any pain points or problem areas for people when navigating around your business;
  • Look at alternative routes that can improve and expediate the visitors’ journey to their destination.

Having a wayfinding strategy ensures you promote a better user experience within your organisation. In the modern world, user experience and ease of use is king – so don’t overlook this step!

Directional Signage Header Image

What are the benefits of wayfinding and directional signage?

More than just helping your visitors navigate, wayfinding signage is a great opportunity to show off the personality of your brand. It also says a lot about the experience you want to create for your visitors, and how much attention and consideration you’ve given to looking after them while on-site.

Let Wayfinding and Directional Signage Help You

benefit

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.

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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.

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Differentiate yourself: With wayfinding signage, you can reinforce to visitors that you run a focused business that stands out from competitors by 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.

General examples:

  • Door plaques (nameplates to room names)
  • Departmental markers (Accounting and Finance; Sales)
  • Landmark signage (donor plaque; historical marker)
Gateshead College Interior Signs Door Signs

2. Wayfinding signage for direction

Directional signage helps people get to where they’re going, like a helping 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 clear it is not working properly.

General examples:

  • 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)
Wymondham High Education & Schools Interior Signs Reception & Directory Signs

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.

General examples:

  • Amenities and accommodations (free Wi-Fi; stairs)
  • Facilities signage (bathrooms; exits; cafe)
  • Business information (opening hours; address)
Braille & Tactile Signs

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.

General examples:

  • Rules and regulations (no smoking; no ball games)
  • Compliance standards (ADA accessibility; high voltage sign)
  • Access control (no entry beyond this point; employees only)
Signs Express Health & Safety Signs

What are the different types of wayfinding signs?

OUTDOOR BUILDING SIGNS

Harpers Stainless Steel Plaque Salisbury

Common uses of outdoor building signs:

  • Outdoor building signs and outdoor plaques typically display business logo, name, contact information to help visitors gather information.
  • Help visitors identify and navigate to the premises from longer distances.

TOTEMS AND MONOLITHS

Wayfinding Totem North Herts Council Signs Express Bedford 1

Common uses of totems and monoliths:

  • Signal entrances and exits of retail, industrial and car parks.
  • Inform passers-by of a business’s presence or facilities and opening times.

POST AND PANEL SIGNS

Nursery School Sign Post And Panel Southampton

Common uses of post and panel signs:

  • Direct people to entrances and exits of your premises from long and short distances.
  • Display maps and other graphics to facilitate navigation & orientation.
  • Direct visitors between exterior areas of a site.
  • Communicate traffic information (turnings, car park locations and parking regulations etc.)

FINGER POSTS

Way Finding Finger Post Sign Aylesbury

Common uses of finger posts:

  • Keep visitors on track to their destination at different stages of their journey
  • Commonly used outdoors around university campuses, hospital and healthcare facilities, and outdoor attractions such as parks

DIRECTORIES AND INTERCHANGEABLE PLAQUES

Peninsula Innovations Inter Signs Cable & Rod Directory

Common uses of directories:

  • Located near lifts, stairwells, corridors, unit entrances to help visitors navigate different floors.
  • Display information such as room numbers, facilities, or time-sensitive information like events.

WALL GRAPHICS

Internal Wall Graphics Pure Sports Medicine By Signs Express Enfield

Common uses of wall graphics:

  • Can enhance the user experience with an impactful take on wayfinding using creative designs and illustrations.

FLOOR GRAPHICS

Application Of Phototex Onto Stairs Internal Floor Graphics Gateshead

Common uses of floor graphics:

  • Located in reception areas of hospitals, GP surgeries, and schools to convey regulatory information.
  • Demarcate disabled parking bays.

DOOR SIGNS

Door Signs & Nameplates

Common uses of door signs:

  • Schools, hospitals and any business with staff-assigned spaces.
  • Separate communal spaces from private.
  • Increase accessibility with the addition of braille.

BANNERS

New large scale banners for City College, Coventry

Common uses of banners:

  • Temporary wayfinding solution for events.
  • Permanent wayfinding for large structures.

How can I increase the accessibility of my wayfinding?

There are several aspects to consider to ensure your wayfinding and directional signage is accessible. The first is for people who are visually impaired, incorporating touch elements such as braille, raised large print, pictograms, and symbols to help them successfully interpret your signage.

Other features that can increase accessibility are using lighter text on a dark background which can reduce halation, a matt finish to reduce glare, and having a white border around the sign.

Also consider the height of your signage, which will be different for visually impaired persons and wheelchair users, which should be between 1400-1700mm and 1000-1100mm respectively. Signs near control panels should be lower, located around 900-1200mm.

Hse Sign For Disabled Facilities Big

Key things to consider for successful wayfinding systems

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.

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.

FAQ

  • Q. What is wayfinding signage?
    Collapsetoggle icon

    Wayfinding is an umbrella term that describes the problem-solving process people go through when they need to navigate a physical space. Wayfinding signage guides visitors through a physical space using simple text and symbols to help them reach their destination. 

    What types of signs are used in wayfinding and directional signage?

  • Q. Which kind of business will benefit the most from wayfinding and directional signage?
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    All businesses who receive customers, visitors and staff at a physical location will benefit from wayfinding and directional signage. Wayfinding signage is especially important at sites where people are likely to visit less frequently, such as hospitals, airports, and cities with high numbers of tourists. Businesses or groups of businesses spread across multiple floors and premises will also benefit, such as hospitals, universities, construction sites, industrial and retail parks.

  • Q. Where can wayfinding and directional signage be utilised?
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    Wayfinding and directional signage are found in, on and around the interior and exterior of buildings used for many purposes, such as business, recreation, healthcare, and education. It is typically located throughout the journey to the visitor’s destination and is especially important at key points such as corners and crossroads that require the user to decide to go in one direction or another. Wayfinding is now typically part of the building design process but can be retrofit to improve the functionality and user-friendliness of existing structures.

  • Q. Do all wayfinding signs need to be DDA compliant?
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    Wayfinding and directional signage should meet requirements set out by the UK’s 1995 Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) to help your indoor and outdoor spaces comply with accessibility regulations. This includes accommodating visually impaired persons with features such as high contract colours, bold and legible fonts, white borders around signage panels, raised letters and pictograms and braille. It also encompasses installation height, which differ for visually impaired persons and wheelchair users. They should also mark accessible areas, such as lifts, ramps, parking spaces, toilets, entrances and exits.

  • Q. What is the history of wayfinding?
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    Wayfinding existed in the earliest civilisations, with the first wayfinding signage found in ancient Greek and Roman times, around 2,000 years ago. They focused on images and symbols rather than words as most people could not read or write.

  • Q. Why choose Signs Express for my wayfinding and directional signage?
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    Signs Express has been established for 35 years, with 60 locations across the UK and Ireland, with a broad expertise across all types of wayfinding and directional signage. Having worked with companies of all sizes and industries, we will evaluate your current wayfinding system or create one completely bespoke from scratch, select, and manufacture the right signage from our vast catalogue of solutions, and complete the installation at a time that keeps disruption to your business to a minimum. 

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