The Practical Guide to Wayfinding

Scarlet Hotel directional sign

Signage and wayfinding is how people interact with you at a fundamental level. It can be the first point of contact with your organisation, the means by which to bring visitors to your doors, help them find their way, encourage them to explore, and ensure they get the most of their experience. From castles to campuses, hospitals to heritage sites, and business parks to busy town centres, 20/20 have designed and installed effective, user focussed wayfinding schemes that really work. We’ve picked the brains of our in-house experts to bring you this ultimate, practical guide to wayfinding.

What is wayfinding?

“Wayfinding [noun]”
The process or activity of ascertaining one’s position and planning and following a route.
(Oxford English Dictionary)

Wayfinding is the system that helps people to find their way from one place to another, often through a complex or unfamiliar environment. It is so much more than signs – it encompasses all of the things people use to orient themselves and navigate from place to place.

Royal Cornwall Hospital map and directionsPlacing a sign on a wall with an arrow pointing in a particular direction, attaching a new sign system to an existing one, or adding symbols to those signs… these things alone are not wayfinding. Wayfinding makes use of the whole environment to allow a person to self-navigate as much as possible using cues that identify and direct to key locations within the site. Cues include the architecture, the landscape, the colour, the staff and yes, also signs.

Whether your aim is to enable patients to find their appointment on a complex hospital site, to direct visitors and students across a busy campus, or to encourage visitors to fully explore your estate, the principles of successful wayfinding are the same…

Take a fresh look

Killerton entrance sign

When you’re familiar with an area it can be difficult to see where the problems lie. Take a walk around your site, and try to see it as if you were someone who didn’t already know it well.

  • Do the signs and maps help you find your way around, help you feel confident? What impression do they leave?
  • Look out for the decision points…where might people be unsure?
  • Talk to your visitors…find out where they encounter difficulties, and what would make their journey clearer

Don’t presume that you need a complex system of directional signs to improve your wayfinding – it may be as simple as directing your visitors through a more appropriate entrance point, or naming your car parks.

Look for the cues

Lands End painted stone signsThe most effective wayfinding schemes take into account all the cues that people use to understand where they are and navigate their journey to where they want to be.

Everyone is different and has their own approach – some may benefit from following a colour coded zone, others may seek out signs or maps. Numbers or icons can be useful to overcome language barriers, and increasingly many people are most comfortable consulting an app.

The simplest and most effective wayfinding schemes make full use of a person’s surroundings – making use of interior design, architecture, displays, maps and of course, people, to make it as easy as possible for visitors to find their way. What matters is consistency throughout all uses.


Use the right language

Callywith College door graphicsThink about the words you use. Do they reflect the language your visitors would use? Each industry and organisation has its own vocabulary – but it’s important that your terminology makes sense to your visitors, not just to you. Keep it simple, and keep it consistent. It may sound obvious but all too often inconsistencies in referring to locations and destinations cause confusion. Am I looking for the ‘entrance’ or the ‘reception’? Agree your terminology and stick to it across all communications.

In multi-lingual environments you may want to consider reducing your use of words and use instead widely recognised figures eg numbers and universal symbols. Number based wayfinding is familiar in large schemes, particularly where they need to accommodate many languages and levels, such as hotels and airports.

In some cases universal icons can help, commonplace now for facilities such as toilets, pedestrian routes and wheelchair accessible routes.

Break it down

People generally only remember the last couple of instructions for a journey, so it’s useful  to break up complex routes into simple manageable steps, and navigate to an address rather than a place.

For example, by directing people first to a key orientation point, such as a building entrance, then supplying secondary navigation information, such as maps or signposts, as needed to find a specific location.

Don’t let your signs or directories become long, unstructured lists. If you carefully plan your information hierarchy, even simple panels can convey large amounts of information:

Orientation – where am I?

Direction – where do I need to go?

Arrival – how do I know I’m there?


Practical solutions

In wayfinding, often the simplest changes can make all the difference. Think about the most practical solution to fit your purpose. For example,

  • Falmouth town finger postsUsing finger posts conveys physical direction in 3D far better than a flat sign listing locations with arrows.
  • High level signs and tall totems can help orient your visitors across busy areas such as car parks and from a distance.
  • Simple imagery and infographics can convey much more than words alone, and used in conjunction with coordinated colour coding and interior design elements can create eyecatching and useful reference points.
  • Remember to tell people where they are in relation to their surroundings, simple site drawings with ‘You are here’ indicators reassure and give confidence for self navigation.
  • Where’s my nearest…? Highlight the locations of commonly sought out facilities such as toilets, refreshments and exits in your scheme.


Helping you find your way

If you’re struggling to find your way … contact us. Our wayfinding consultancy provides an intelligent and holistic solution that makes use of our broad expertise in interiors, signage and wayfinding design.

Your project may appear complex, even daunting, but our systematic approach has enabled us to work with varied clients to tackle large wayfinding and interiors projects with ease.

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