Guide to Using Wayfinding Signs

Whether you’re a store, a school, an outdoor centre or any other organisation, it’s important that the people who visit your premises are able to find their way around. The best way to help them do this is through the installation of wayfinding signs. However, before commencing installation, here is some advice that will help you make the most of your signage.

Basic rules for wayfinding signs

Wayfinding signs inform people in an unfamiliar environment about where they are and how to get to the places they need to be. To make wayfinding signs successful, they need to be part of a wayfinding system that it strategically designed to help them navigate complicated layouts.
More than this, though, you also need to think about the way people behave when finding their whereabouts in new places and there are three basic rules that you should consider when setting up a wayfinding system, these are:

  1. Signs should not have to make visitors work things out for themselves. Instead, they should provide a clear and comprehensive system of navigation that is consistent throughout the premises.
  2. Wayfinding signs should be concise and to the point, giving only the information that is needed. Motorway signs, for example, usually inform you of the next major town, but they won’t list all the towns that follow.
  3. In order to ensure that essential information is communicated in a clear way, any extraneous elements should be avoided – this is why many wayfinding signs for toilets use the universally recognisable toilet symbol but don’t have the word ‘toilet’ written on them.

Developing your wayfinding system

When developing your own wayfinding system, there are a number of factors that you should consider. The first of these is the key landmarks on your premises that visitors are likely to remember and can use to help create their mental map of their surroundings. These may include entrances, receptions, stand out architectural features, permanent art displays and various other features. Creating wayfaring signs that reference these places or using these as places to locate signs can make navigation much easier.
Orientation is another important factor. Many large environments like shopping centres and parks, for example, have maps with a ‘You are here’ sign which help visitors get an understanding of where they are in relation to everywhere else. In smaller areas, it can be important to use signs to state the current location as this will help visitors navigate from place to place or landmark to landmark. In large environments, it can also be useful to show distances or travelling times to places being pointed to.
Finally, remember to incorporate directional navigation, with signs that use arrows or are pointed in shape.

Types of wayfinding sign

When developing a wayfinding system, there are four different types of sign you can use, each with a different function.

  • Identification signs are used to identify specific locations. In supermarkets, we often see these hung from the roof so that customers can find their way to particular kinds of products. In schools, they are often placed at the entrances to departments and rooms. They also include signs to identify specific facilities, such as a reception.
  • Directional signs are used to point people in the direction of a location. These can be placed on walls or fixed to signposts and are usually strategically placed.
  • Information signs are used to give more detailed information, such as opening times and visitor instructions.

Warning signs are an important element of a wayfinding system, for example, helping people know where to find a fire escape, showing that smoking is not permitted and preventing entry to staff only areas.

Using the right typeface

When choosing a typeface for your wayfinding signs, it is important that it is easy to read, with well-proportioned lettering and reasonable line spacing. Ideally, you should choose a sans serif type with clearly obvious ascenders and descenders.

Designing the signs

A good sign is clearly visible against its background, easy to read and in a size that enables it to be read at the distances required.
When designing a wayfinding system to be used throughout a premises, the most important attribute is consistency. If all the signs have a similar design, visitors quickly begin to recognise them as wayfinding signs. Without consistency, people get confused and, consequently, lost. To maintain consistency, use the same sign shape, iconography, typeface and colours.

Summing up

As you can see from this article, if you are using multiple wayfinding signs, it’s important to create a wayfinding system that visitors can quickly understand. In a sense, its similar to the system of road signs we follow when driving. To be successful, your system needs to have a consistency of design, a clarity of message and an understanding of the most appropriate locations within your premises to strategically place the signs.

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