Wayfinding, to the untrained eye, looks pretty uncomplicated. After all, it’s just some signs on a wall, telling you which way the lifts are and where to find a meeting room. In theory, it shouldn’t be more complicated than that.
What is complicated, on the other hand, is human behaviour.
It happens a lot – a beautiful new building opens, excitement is high, the business (or businesses) inside are ready for customers to start interacting with them and make some sales so that the investment of the new building begins to pay off.
But then the customers can’t find the front desk. Or, people were expected to turn left but consistently keep turning right and ending up in the wrong place. Visitors to the building inexplicably keep getting lost and frustrated, unable to find what they’re looking for, and less likely to return.
In developing a wayfinding strategy, a lot of designers do not attempt to understand the psychology of the users and the resulting signage solution fails to reach its objective.
Wayfinding requires a strategic and complete approach. It involves the use of specialist techniques, disciplines and an understanding of human behaviour.
You will know your wayfinding is successful when your visitors can, first of all, identify their current location. Are they in the lobby? Is this the west entrance? It should be easy for them to envision an arrow saying “You Are Here!” and know exactly where it’s pointing. They need to then identify their desired location, and be able to make the correct navigational decisions to reach it.
Wayfinding serves a number of very important purposes, but it only serves those purposes if it works – and signage is only as effective as its placement.
There is no point putting a sign where nobody will see it. In order to be effective, signage must be placed somewhere logical, in the normal sightline of the viewer as they make their way through the building. In practical terms, this means installing signs at eye level and making them easily noticeable. With different heights to consider, including those using wheelchairs, a sign installed at 1400mm to 1600mm from the floor to the bottom of the sign will sit comfortably in the viewing zones of both standing and seated visitors.
It means thinking about where people are likely to look as they move through the building.
It also means making the signage immediately recognisable, even at a distance. By keeping branding consistent, with consistent colours, fonts and sign sizes, visitors to the building will easily spot the signage amongst the surrounding environment because they’ll be looking out for it. They’ll be ready to look from one sign to another that looks the same, and know that that’s the path they intended to be on.
Regardless of the route, every sign needs to lead to the next in a predictable way. Visitors should be able to map their path easily and at every junction or corner receive information from signage that directs them towards their destination. Too large gaps between signs, or signs placed where the visitor isn’t likely to look (and therefore miss entirely), will mean that the visitor will lose the path they’re following.
Wayfinding can only work if thought has gone into how people naturally behave.
If you are aware of how your visitors interact with your business, you will be more aware of how to help them.
While many factors contribute to effective wayfinding, one that can’t be underestimated is the placement strategy. At IU Signage, our extensive background in wayfinding has given us invaluable experience in guiding navigational decisions with signage.
How will you stop your customers from turning right when you want them to go left?