Wayfinding Signs – Never Overlook The Details

20 Feb 2013

When people think of signs, thoughts tend toward big outdoor shop signs, road signs and billboards – all the obvious sign requirements. But indoor signs are crucial to getting around a building. Your local library might have 5 floors and hundreds of rows of books. A hotel might have dozens of rooms and a vast network of corridors. An airport is likely to be one of the busiest, labyrinthine spaces a person could ever set foot in. Finding your way around a building, no matter how well designed it may be, would be next to impossible without interior wayfinding signs.

Aside from ushering in chaos, a lack of signs makes a building an unpleasant place to be. Can you imagine trying every door in a museum until you found a toilet? Or trying to find your way out of a department store with no signs to lead you? Not many people would want to return to such an experience. The same can be said for inadequate indoor signage that either doesn’t give clear information. If people can’t find what they’re looking for, they will go elsewhere. An efficient, well designed wayfinding system will help people find where they are, their destination and the best route to it – so how can this be achieved?

There are a few basic essentials to getting indoor navigation right. The most important element is the signs themselves. The prime directive of these signs is clarity – they should look great, be easy to spot and read – and communicate information effortlessly.

Wayfinding signs aren’t an opportunity to brand every square foot of space in a building, so if your company motto is ‘quirky and out there’, try to avoid applying that sense of adventure to your signs – people trying to find their way won’t appreciate getting lost. You wouldn’t want to turn ‘quirky and out there’ into ‘quick get me out of here’. A wayfinding strategy should be a completely separate element to your branding, but by all means incorporate colour coding and logos where they are appropriate, just as long as they don’t interfere with the task at hand.

Be aware of positioning and density – and with that, size. It might not be possible to contain large signs in your building, so visual presence may be reduced. Think about where people will be viewing these signs from, by physically walking the space and looking around, placing flags or markers. Use floor plans to develop the strategy further. Efficiency and consistency is key – so make all the signs adhere to an overall theme, even if sizes will have to vary.

There’s no saying quite like ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’. If your space will play host to multiple nationalities and countless languages, translating the text on those signs for everyone to read might mean a thousand words per sign. That’s not going to help anyone, but thankfully there are universally recognised symbols and images that perfectly describe a location or function. Some are so clear and well known that no language will be necessary at all, like symbols for toilets, telephones, emergency exits and tourist information.

The most important things to take away are that your wayfinding system must be clear, informative and complete. Avoid being unique at the cost of clarity and make the wayfinding process as simple as possible. Doing so will ensure all visitors feel welcome, free to move and well informed when they enter your building – and they won’t get lost!