Wayfinding's Systems: Everything You Need To Know

November 16, 2021

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The Basics Of Wayfinding

What Is A Wayfinding System?

A wayfinding system is a tool or suite of tools that works to help people navigate their physical environments and orient themselves in their location in space. A suite of wayfinding tools can include directions, symbols, colors, kiosks, maps and other communication tools that help viewers effectively find their desired locations. Today, these tools also integrate with wireless technologies, including mobile applications, digital displays and RFID.

Wayfinding systems are particularly useful in complex built environments that people must navigate effectively, including:

  • School campuses
  • Hospitals
  • Malls
  • Urban centers
  • Transportation facilities, including airports

In such places, wayfinding help can not only build trust but also significantly boost the user’s sense of safety, security and overall agency. However, this will only work if the wayfaring tool is effectively planned and created to providing information at key points of the user’s journey.

What Are The Key Principles When Implementing A Wayfinding System?

Again, the point of a wayfinding system is to help people understand their surroundings and their direction in an unfamiliar environment. Wayfinding will only work effectively if creators follow some key principals and best practices. For example, wayfinding creators should follow the following principles:

  • Create a clear, comprehensive and consistent visual communication system: Users should not have to think or guess about where they are or where they need to go. Instead, this information should be effectively delineated on the maps, kiosks, etc.
  • Don’t add extra information: To this end, users should only see what is needed, and this information should include location identities, landmarks and well-structured paths. All other excess information should be removed.

When these principals are followed, it is more likely that wayfinding users will be able to orient themselves in the built environment and navigate to their desired location.

How Does A Wayfinding System Work?

There are many ways to integrate wayfinding systems into your day-to-day operations, like via a geographical map, a physical kiosk or a more cognitive map. When creating your wayfinding scheme, there are a few characteristics that you should keep in mind:

  • Navigation: Navigation is the physical “direction” to your destination of choice. Things like signs and roads can serve as navigation in a wayfinding system.
  • Orientation: To navigate, you must be able to tell where you are in the wayfinding system (and when you’re going in the correct direction). This will make it easier to find your destination, locate landmarks and more. Such effective navigation is obtained using a tool like a map.
  • Landmarks: Landmarks are particular locations that make a wayfinding system more legible and easier to use. Landmarks can include objects, buildings, art installations, museums, etc.

What Are 4 Types Of Wayfinding Signs?

When it comes to digital signage and information systems, there are four primary types of wayfinding signs to choose between: informational signs, directional signs, identification signs and warning signs:

  • Informational signs: Informational signs, like sign poles, provide basic information that can help you orient yourself and move toward your destination. They usually provide broader information than identification signs. For example, where an identification sign designates office areas – like a conference room or bathroom – the informational sign simply names the building. This can also include signs like “Free Wi-Fi.”
  • Directional signs: Directional signs quite literally point you in the right direction, helping you to way find effectively. Examples include junction signs (pointing you, for example, “left to conference rooms”) or colored direction lines on the floor.
  • Identification signs: Identification signs provide key information about locations and landmarks, including building names or door plaques. These identifiers help users understand where they are and when they have arrived at their desired location. In a building, this could be as simple as a “Conference room,” sign – or a “customer service” sign in a retail store.
  • Warning signs: These regulatory signs indicate any safety concerns and to set boundaries within a space. They can include things like fire escape routes, loitering signs or “employees only” placards.

In most instances, you will encounter a combination of all four types of signs, and they should work together to help you effectively navigate your physical space.

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