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Designing effective wayfinding systems and signs is crucial to most business owners, city planners, interior designers, architects, planning committees and more. Proper wayfinding allows for a smooth patron experience and in most cases is critical for the end-user to have the desired experience. For example, if you own a small business in a large campus, or perhaps in a multi-story office building, proper wayfinding allows customers who may otherwise overlook your space the opportunity to discover it, as well as enabling those who are actively seeking your space out to find it without any difficulty. This experience can create a lasting impression of your building and/or brand. The applications of proper wayfinding also extend to urban planning; the planning of cycling trails, hiking trails, and parks.
So, what exactly constitutes effective wayfinding design?
A great wayfinding system uses the following characteristics and relies heavily on expected human behavior.
- Less thinking is better. Create a system that is clear, concise and easy to understand.
- Only show what you need to show. Wayfinding systems are not the place for information overload. Remove excessive information.
- Focus on creating a clear and easy to understand the message.
How does wayfinding work?
How do you help people navigate? The experience of navigating around a building, a city or a conservation area, for example, is all similar in one way. It’s built upon their actual memory of the trip coupled with signage and other elements.
Landmarks in wayfinding.
To create an easy to understand the environment, it is necessary to mark specific locations. This reinforces the recognition of places and plays a part in overseeing a larger area. Using landmarks and marking elements an area will become more visible and will be understood better in human memory. Landmarks can be statues, art, a striking building or a wayfinding sign or striking element in a landscape. These elements combined will shape the identity of this previously unknown area as seen from your user’s perspective.
Orientation for wayfinding systems.
When a patron knows where they are relative to other features and locations it instills confidence and helps again further define their experience. Maps are a common way to provide orientation in a wayfinding system. When designing a map make sure you are using the proper orientation from the map’s location so that the user can easily get a sense of what is around them and in what direction.
Navigation in wayfinding signage.
A physical reference to the direction through the wayfinding system is critical. There is a lot to be said about the confidence someone gets in an unknown area when they see direction signs at times that help them know they’re heading in the right direction and towards their destination.
Design in wayfinding systems.
It is essential to develop a scheme that keeps the brand’s identity and style in mind. With this step, you can build up a modular wayfinding system that will adapt to the built environment and the human expectations for orientation and navigation purposes. Be sure to do the proper research on the proposed or actual environment including tours, mock-ups and maintain excellent communication with the planner and design team on-site.
Wayfinding design principles.
Signage and other wayfinding devices should all be based on the same brand identity and style guide. Therefore, they must all be consistent with each other in terms of style and size and be a part of an overall system. It goes without saying, if signage or any advertising devices for that matter, allow for brand confusion, it serves as an overall detractor and doesn’t properly qualify customers on the services and directions you are trying to offer them.
What typeface should I use in wayfinding signage?
A signage typeface is usually a simple sans-serif type and available in various weights with a simple easy-to-read straightforward design. These types of fonts scale up and down well and are easy to read at various sizes due to the proportions. The typeface choice is a critical one and the brand’s identity and/or style guide may play a role depending on the project. Due to varied usage of the same type, you will want to use a typeface that offers various weights as well.
In summary, be consistent in your system and scheme, print mock-ups to test in the environment and solicit feedback. Your wayfinding system design will play a massive role in the user’s experience and that plays right into the branding for your client.