Wayfinding programs can seem overwhelming. With so many components to consider, including destinations, routes, materials, ADA code, architecture, branding, and technology… many ask, “Where do we begin?” The most important aspects in any wayfinding project can be boiled down to three things: architecture, branding, and the people. That’s it. Everything else fits into one of those buckets.
One of the first things people recognize when approaching their destination will probably be its architectural features. Even if it’s an open outdoor space, there is probably something of a ‘Gateway’ feature, beacon, or landmark that confirms you have arrived. Once you’re inside the space, the design of pathways, visibility of vertical circulation such as stairs or elevators and long sightlines all assist in the visitor’s ability to navigate the space. Floor and wall finishes, lighting, and technology integrations can also be helpful in creating a sense of ‘go this way’ or ‘nothing here to see’ feeling. Ceiling heights, intersections, sightlines and are all considerations for where information is placed, what it looks like, and how people will interact with it.
Wayfinding is an extension of the brand by incorporating typography, color, and other branding attributes. In crowded cities, the exterior branding is especially important to clearly mark building boundaries or increase usage of a specific are of the space by drawing more attention to it. Well integrated branding helps the visitor to confirm they are in the right location and creates recognition of brand through consistency. Use of branding in Placemaking offers the opportunity to adapt the brand into a playful and imaginative manner, creating a unique interaction with the visitor and the brand.
The people that use the space are the focus of any wayfinding system. Their journey begins before they arrive at a sign. It most likely begins at home when they receive an invitation to an event, book travel itineraries, or makes a doctor’s appointment. They may use a website, their smart phone, or call a customer service line to get directions and plan their journey. Architecture and branding will be the first thing that greets them as they approach the destination. Only then do signs, static or digital depending on the variability of the content, provide them with directions on which way to go.
Information can be communicated in many different ways, including print, signs, or digital tools, but by understanding the environment they will be navigating, the needs of your audiences, and what formats will best communicate the information, the wayfinding strategy and design solution will be unique to the location and effective for its visitors.
So again we ask, “Where do we begin?” First, understand whom the visitors are and what types of tools they will need to plan on getting to the location. From there, building a system that is consistent in brand, nomenclature, and strategically placed information within the architecture, supported by printed materials, and digital resources will help them get to their destination.