• Transform magazine
  • December 07, 2023


Wayfinding: Way more than signage

Via Collective Headshot

Katie Osborn the principal and owner of Via Collective Incorporated. She discusses here how brands can leverage design principles of customer experience, universal design and inclusive design to create a successful wayfinding system.

In its simplest form, a successful wayfinding programme needs to do two things: be an extension of the brand and get people to where they are going. Many people equate wayfinding with static signage, however a full system includes architectural landmarks, digital services (online and mobile), customer service, printed materials and maps. 

Developing a wayfinding system that is easy to navigate for the majority of visitors requires developing a cohesive experience with multiple touchpoints. We can accomplish this through consistent branding, nomenclature and instructions across all platforms – but also frame it through the lens of the ‘customer experience’. How do we want them to feel, discover or engage with during their visit? 

Enhancing the customer experience 

The perception of wayfinding impacting the customer experience is evolving as entities notice that the term encompasses all touchpoints a customer will have with a brand, business or agency. 

Trust is a critical component of a successful customer experience and wayfinding contributes to building trust by reinforcing the brand identity across all platforms. By using consistent graphic elements like language, typeface or colour, these elements reinforce a consistent experience throughout the visitor experience. Successful wayfinding orients people in a way that increases their sense of safety and security, increasing their comfort level in the environment. 

Successful wayfinding begins with understanding who will be using the space and how we can best meet their needs. Solutions must include the basics of ADA code within the United States including legibility, contrast, mounting heights, icons and braille, but we can go beyond this baseline by providing wayfinding information in a variety of formats so that people can use what suits them best.

Universal and inclusive design principles

As the range of individual needs increase, and applications beyond ADA code regulations are desired by many public spaces such as airports, hospitals, and sporting facilities, the rise of universal and inclusive design principles have been integrated into architecture and wayfinding programmes to best address the needs of all visitors. 

Applying the principles of universal design to wayfinding may include elements such as colour-coding information so that users who see a certain colour know that they are heading for a certain destination. Audible signs and resources on mobile devices are helpful in locations where ambient noise does not prevent the message from being heard, or those with low hearing capacity may require assistance. Within this context, wayfinding apps with live guidance are gaining traction. As universal design becomes the standard for good design, we can envision a world where barriers to access are a thing of the past.

Inclusive design is also gaining traction and becoming an integral part of user experience design. Where universal design tends to focus on one solution that will fit as many user groups as possible, inclusive design offers multiple solutions so that users can select one that fits their needs. Inclusive design goes beyond physical characteristics and “considers the full range of human diversity with respect to ability, language, culture, gender, age and other forms of human difference.”

Start at the beginning

With all wayfinding programmes, integrating these principles of customer experience, universal design and inclusive design from the beginning allows the foundation of the system to be built and developed with the visitor at the centre of the experience. 

Confirming the types of visitors and which tools are most successful for those types are additional considerations when deciding which items to utilize within a full wayfinding system. No two systems are alike, just like no two environments are, which is why the solutions must centre around the visitor and the experience you want them to have.