Wayfinding signage is important to a lot of organisations. If you have large premises with a complicated layout or simply have visitors who don’t know their way around, wayfinding signs are the solution that helps people get to where they need to be without getting lost.
They help students get to class on time, patients make appointments and customers find the products or services they are looking for.
Putting together an effective wayfinding system, however, requires some thought and forward planning. To help you create a better system, here are seven tips for creating effective wayfinding signs.
- Design for the first-time visitor
The aim of a wayfinding system is to ensure that everybody can get to where they need to be. To ensure this happens, design your system for those who have never been to your premises before. To do this, you need to think like a visitor. What things would they be looking for? Where would they want to go? How would they try to navigate through the building?
- Survey your premises
Before making a wayfinding system, you need to have a complete and accurate record of where everything is. There are some premises where no single person has complete knowledge of the space and without a full overview, potentially important places are going to be absent from the system.
You also need to engage other people’s opinions about which places need to be included on the wayfinding system and which, if any, can be left off. For example, managers might not consider the boiler room a necessary inclusion, whereas the contractors sent to service it might find it very useful.
- Display signs at decision points
One of the key aspects of an effective wayfinding system is putting the signs in the right places. Generally, we are very good at finding things if we are travelling in a straight line: it is when that straight line deviates that we expect to find a sign to help us on the next part of the journey.
This usually means putting a sign at a place where we need to decide about which direction to go and, in most cases, these are at entrances, exits, staircases, lifts, crossroads, junctions and larger spaces where there are multiple exits each leading to different places.
- Maintain consistency
Wayfinding signs need to be recognised as such and should, therefore, all have the same design. This means using the same colours, shapes, fonts and symbols consistently so that people can spot them easily and know immediately that they are wayfinding signs.
Another important consistency feature is to ensure that all places are labelled according to their officially assigned names. This requires all places within a premises to be given an official name and for the use of that name to be encouraged by staff. The typical example of this is where building extensions are sometimes referred to as the ‘new block’ but have an official title that nobody uses. Someone sent to the ‘new block’ would have difficulty finding it when it was labelled as something else on the signage system.
- Display information succinctly
The best practice in creating an effective wayfinding system is to keep information limited to what is necessary. This means labelling the destination, pointing the direction and, if required, showing the distance or travelling time. Always aim to use the minimum number of words and where possible, e.g., for toilets, use universally understood symbols.
Keeping information to what is necessary ensures it is presented in a clean and precise way that is easy to follow. This is especially important if there are several signs, all for different places, placed next to each other.
- Giving distance and time information
Not all organisations will need to provide distance and/or time information but those with large or multiple buildings or which have outdoor spaces may find it helpful. Providing information about the distance to be travelled and the approximate time it can take to get from A to B can be particularly helpful in university campuses, theme parks, zoos, hospitals, transport hubs, holiday camps and so forth.
- Maintain up-to-date signage
Places change over time: rooms get reassigned for different uses and internal building work can mean some rooms and even routes disappear. As anyone who has ever used an out of date Ordnance Survey map will tell you, this can be very confusing. To prevent confusion amongst your visitors and staff, make regular checks of your premises and ensure that any changes that might affect the wayfinding system are notified to the person responsible for its maintenance.
When properly designed to meet your needs, wayfinding signs can bring many benefits to your organisation. They cut down on wasted time and missed appointments, improve customer satisfaction, reduce confusion and stress, and help people find the products and services they want quickly and easily. Hopefully, the seven tips provided here will help your organisation design a more effective wayfinding system that is truly fit for purpose.
For more information, visit our Wayfinding Signs page.