Welcome to Wayfinding 101.

Here you will find limah's insights and a basic introduction to the discipline of wayfinding. This is a resource for clients, project planners and students aimed at increasing awareness and improving the industry. Read below for insights on everything from selecting a consultant, choosing pictograms, or how to plan your next project. Have more questions on wayfinding or our work? Connect with us today to learn more.

Introduction 1.0

1.1 What is wayfinding?

Keeping it simple; it's the early research, strategy and design that go into the planning of the built environment to aid users in navigating and understanding complex spaces. The result can be architectural features, landmarks, art and sculptures, defined paths, visual clues, naming and numbering systems and of course signage.The goal should be to improve thesites efficiency, create a welcoming environment and even increase revenues for clients. The discipline of wayfinding combines design, engineering, science and psychology to shape user behaviour. Architecture, signage, urban elements, and public art are all used in wayfinding to create positive user experiences.

1.2 What kind of designers do wayfinding?

Traditionally wayfinding has been done by graphic designers, which is a major reason why mistakenly wayfinding is considered only signage. However leading firms, like limah understand the need to take a holistic approach to the discipline. Not relying simply on graphic design and 2D thinking, a team must be multidisciplinary from all backgrounds. Major and complex projects require a team of industrial designers, information designers, architects, engineers, human centered researchers, wayfinding analysts, brand strategists, and graphic artists.

1.3 Wayfinding – the big picture

When one starts to consider and understand wayfinding is not signage or environmental graphic design, the designer is then freed to consider the needs of the user and develop a number of solutions to improve the experience. At the forefront of this concept was Jason Lewis, Founder & Managing Director of Limah Design Consultants who coined the term "Experience Engineering™". He brought forward the idea that wayfinding is about creating positive user experiences, and those experiences can be enhanced through means of art, landmarks, street furniture, interactive technologies, architecture, even landscape design.Experience Engineering™ seeks to understand the user and their needs and through design strategy and research the components of wayfinding are uncovered.

"Architecture, signage, urban elements, and public art are all used in wayfinding to create positive user experiences."
"through design strategy and research the components of wayfinding are uncovered."
Components of wayfinding 2.0

The components of wayfinding fall under 6 main categories; environment, urban elements, signage, interactive, brand and user experience. By combining all of the components effectively a wayfinding masterplan live up to its goals; welcome, direct, inform, orient and create a positive user experience

    • Environment

    • Architecture
    • Paths and nodes
    • Address / numbering systems
    • Landscapes
    • Streetscapes
    • Environment

    • Architecture
    • Paths and nodes
    • Address / numbering systems
    • Landscapes
    • Streetscapes
    • Environment

    • Architecture
    • Paths and nodes
    • Address / numbering systems
    • Landscapes
    • Streetscapes
    • Environment

    • Architecture
    • Paths and nodes
    • Address / numbering systems
    • Landscapes
    • Streetscapes
    • Environment

    • Architecture
    • Paths and nodes
    • Address / numbering systems
    • Landscapes
    • Streetscapes
    • Environment

    • Architecture
    • Paths and nodes
    • Address / numbering systems
    • Landscapes
    • Streetscapes

2.4 Branding and wayfinding

A well researched and carefully crafted brand can provide a wealth of inspiration for any wayfinding program. Printed materials such as maps can aid users in site navigation. The identity can provide visual clues and identify entrances. Colours, typography and even imagery can be used in the theme of signage and other design elements. Designers should pay close attention to brands and particularly identities. Most often these identities do not consider the built environment and are designed for printed means only. Therefore identities often need to be adjusted and corrected to be applicable to the built environment.

2.5 User experience and wayfinding

The most important component in wayfinding is user experience. If the guest experience is not positive, whether it is an airport, hospital or a shopping mall, they are less likely to return. Users who feel the stress or anxiety of being lost, while they may not understand the wayfinding was done poorly, still maintain those negative thoughts long after the visit has ended. Designers who seek to understand users, their needs, wants and desires are the most successful. By addressing these needs, guests become regular users, even telling others of the positive experience, which means economic benefits for owners. The experience can be improved through many means, from designing features considering human factors, carefully integrated design and even through how staff communicates with guests.

2.1 Environment and wayfinding

One of the best ways to improve a site and its user experience is right from the start, during architectural concepts. Architects often engage directly in this work although sometimes refer to it by different names. When an architect undertakes circulation planning, programmatic studies or user analysis all are in effect a means of improving the wayfinding experience. The architecture itself can have a major impact on the cognitive maps made by users.

2.2 Urban elements and wayfinding

Any element that can be directly integrated into the architecture can impact the user experience and therefore improve the wayfinding. Landmarks in the form of sculpture or environmental graphics can provide subtle clues that orient users without them even being aware of this guidance. Street furniture while they must be functional items can be used in wayfinding to carry design themes that remind users of areas or architectural nodes. Art in itself has one of the most major impacts on user experience as it both communicate client vision, community values or even enhance brands.

2.3 Interactive wayfinding

A somewhat new area, the use of interactive technologies can aid in a sites wayfinding. It should be considered carefully as often the idea of technology can blind designers to its functionality. While interactive mapping is a recent trend, you will be hard pressed to find a digital map that actually works effectively. Likewise with mobile applications, if designed with users in mind they could be effective tools, but designers must use caution so as not to add so many features the application is no longer natural and intuitive.

"through design strategy and research the components of wayfinding are uncovered."

2.6 Signage and wayfinding

Again remember, signage is just one component of wayfinding; it's the result of wayfinding planning and user research. Signage itself involves a number of components that makes for a successful design. The role of signage is to provide very specific instruction, guidance to destinations or give safety information such as in code and regulatory signage. Signage is also an opportunity to enhance the project brand and create a connection between the environment and brand.

3.2 Typography

Fonts can communicate a number of themes, whether modern or traditional, but also they impact on the signs legibility. Type should be selected with the branding in mind however more important is selecting fonts that a wide range of users can actually understand. Much research has gone into type selection such as serif vs. sans serif, upper case vs. lower case. Designers should research appropriate typography and be sure to undertake physical prototyping before a final selection is made. When designing signage that must comply with ADA/DDA, designers should review the guidelines as many fonts will not comply with the standards.

3.6 Numbering, naming and zoning

Combining numbering systems, area themes, or naming strategies are all effective means of adding interest to signage but also aiding in navigation. The consistent use of the system is required to allow users to understand its greater context. For example a zoning theme could be used to define areas in the car park, and then be brought up into the levels above to give users a clue of their relationship to the car park. Likewise numbering systems are an effective means for guiding users. Concepts as simple as street addressing systems to room numbering if well researched can guide users intuitively to destinations.

"Design need to take the time to research and understand human factors...its about designing products or signage that suit the human body and its cognitive abilities."
Effective signage 3.0

To be effective, signage design means developing and considering a number of its own segments, which impact everything from legibility to lighting. A summary of the major segments follows:

3.1 Symbols & Pictograms

When used correctly symbols and pictograms can communicate direction and destinations quickly and effectively. Conversely though, they can have the opposite effect. This is typically seen when symbols are confusing and not easily recognized. Experience shows that a basic international set is very effective, especially in large scale projects with diverse user groups. The entire purpose of a pictogram is to communicate an idea fast through imagery. Designers should carefully asses the need for clever or special symbols and pictograms that users may not be familiar with.

3.3 Arrows

An often overlooked component in signage are arrows. Subtle differences in arrows shapes can have a big impact on sign appearance. There is a wide variety of arrows available which are suitable for most signage. Designers should be careful when designing a new set or custom arrows for projects. All too often these arrows can appear vague and confusing. The functional purpose must always be maintained that the arrow must quickly inform and direct.

3.4 Lighting

Lighting can be used as both a design feature and a functional aid. Lighting can draw attention to signs, and make text visible. Even in well lit areas illuminating signage can provide for better legibility, particularly when signage may be back lit from bright windows. A number of design effects can be created through lighting depending on its placement, whether back lit, front lit, or halo illuminated. The type of lighting will impact on structural design as today's LED modules allow for very thin lightboxes to be made and of course extend the signs lifespan.

3.7 Human factors

Often one of the most overlooked areas of signage design is human factors. All too often signage is misplaced, at incorrect mounting heights or simply contains illegible text. Designers need to take the time to research and understand human factors. A major design discipline in its own right, leading design firms such as limah have human factors researchers on the team, however it's a must all designers understand the basics. In essence human factors is about designing products or signage that suit the human body and its cognitive abilities.

Areas such as legibility, contrast, viewing distance and angle, vehicles speed, letter heights, and even research into users with disabilities should be understood. The result will be functional signage that is understandable and accessible to a wide audience.

3.5 Colours and contrast

The choice of colour may be influenced from everything from the branding, interior design or the environment. There are endless amounts of research available online about colours and the user's perception of these. This is all valuable to consider along with the fact a high proportion of users will be either colour blind or sight impaired. Therefore using colours that have a high contrast against one another becomesan importantcriterion when making selections. As in all parts of signage design physical prototyping it's wise to test colours as they will appear in real form. Colours on screen often look different to how they will appear in paint, powder coat or even printed mediums.

3.8 Mapping

An important element in any wayfinding strategy, mapping done correctly can help users to understand the complete site at a glance. When poorly executed though, mapping can have the opposite effect, causing confusion and misleading users. The complexity of a map is dependent on its environment, but always the intent should be to allow the user to gather information quickly. Complex environments such as hospitals may need maps with a large amount of information, and therefore the design and layout of these maps requires research and testing, and possibly a number of different maps at various scales to fully communicate the site. Ideally maps are legible at a glance; users should be able to quickly assess their current location, orient themselves and find their desired destination. Designers should aim to simplify the space as best as possible. Not every detail of the space need be shown; rather the approach should be to create the map as users understand the space. Be sure to orient maps in the same direction of the site, and lastly don't let mapping be your only tool. Maps should work in harmony with other signage and wayfinding elements.

Wayfinding FAQs 4.0

4.1 What are the phases of Wayfinding?

Typically wayfinding happens through the architectural phases, concept, schematic, design development,
construction drawings and tender. This varies by project scale and type, but should always involve
carefully researched, well conceived concepts and highly detailed drawings.

4.3 Signage design vs. wayfinding consulting

Any project that combines intuitive architecture along with well placed and legible wayfinding cues could be considered successful. Combine this with a positive user experience, and making for an environment that compels users to want to return because of this positive experience could be considered the most successful of wayfinding projects. To put it simply a successful wayfinding strategy will: welcome, direct, inform, orient and create a positive user experience.

4.2 When is wayfinding successful?

For the most professional of consultants,wayfinding is much more than just signage. The design of signage is merely the end result of an excellent understanding of all the elements of wayfinding. The most successful wayfinding strategies are usually created by consultants who collaborate with architects, developers and cities to understand, shape and influence how humans interact with the built environment. The end result is a cohesive signage program that seeks to increase economic activity and create pride in the local culture and community by making spaces easy and intuitive to navigate, often resulting in the creationof memorable experiences.

4.4 What do I need;a wayfinding consultant, a sign designer or a brand designer?

Signage design can be obtained for free from fabricators, so be careful when paying for this. Branding firms, develop brands, not wayfinding strategies, so again wise clients must assess the deliverables to understand if they are getting wayfinding or signage design. The term consultant is often used loosely and you could be engaging a sign designer under the belief you will receive professional wayfinding consulting. Again it's often simply signage design and be careful paying for this service. Wayfinding consultants are most valuable in large and complex projects or speciality projects where design is at the forefront. Clients should be very selective as there are only about a dozen recognized professional wayfinding consultants on earth, so be careful to engage with only those capable. Of course at limah we consider ourselves the global leaders but are committed to encouraging our counterparts to constant industry improvement.

"a successful wayfinding strategy will: welcome, direct, inform, orient and create a positive user experience."

4.6 When is the best time to engage a wayfinding consultant?

It is common for our firm to receive a request for proposal only months before the project is due for

4.5 How do I select a wayfinding consultant?

Primarily by means of an RFP (Request for Proposal) do clients seek out a professional consultant. Clients should carefully assess the backgrounds of the team assembled and compare the deliverables of the bidders. A team with a diverse background of design disciplines is best suited rather than a team comprised of solely graphic design background. It's common for consultants or rather sign designers to deliver basic drawings and plans often done in graphics programs and then rely on sign fabricators to do the remaining specification and drawings for the project. This however results in bids from contractors during the tender stages that can vary greatly. A professional wayfinding consultant rather should provide clients with a great amount of detail with all methods and materials specified. Each and every sign and its location must be considered and planned accordingly with power and infrastructure requirements. Not just wayfinding or directional signage, but also regulatory, traffic signage, and parking systems must be considered for complete integration. This ensures accurate pricing by bidders during tendering which allows for fair comparisons and provides a means of quality control during construction. While price of course is a large factor in selecting consultants, deliverables must be given equal and sometimes greater weight. There are only about a dozen recognized professional wayfinding consultants on earth, so be careful to engage with only those capable. Of course at limah we consider ourselves the global leaders but are committed to encouraging our counterparts to constant industry improvement.

4.7 Who do the leading wayfinding consultants work with?

Professional wayfinding consultants collaborate with architects, developers and city planners to find innovative solutions for their end users. By offering clients the ability to deliver any given project from concept through to roll-out, successful wayfinding consultants are of great benefit to an overall projects success. Top line management experience is required to tackle complex projects such as airports, hospitals and cities as this is where finding the right wayfinding consultant can make a major difference in the end result

"today's building and spaces are becoming more vast, unique and complex, and the need for professional, clear and unbiased advice from a wayfinding consultant to guid users through these spaces, cannot be understated."

4.8 When do I need a professional wayfinding consultant?

A wayfinding consultant can be used in a variety of scenarios, most notably on developments where by the user requires a clear understanding of their location and destination. Today's buildings and spaces are becoming more vast, unique and complex, and the need for professional, clear and unbiased advice from a wayfinding consultant to guide users through these spaces, cannot be understated. The larger and more complex the project the more likely a consultant would be required. Small intimate projects, such as a commercial building may likely not require a consultant; rather a sign fabricator capable of quality design could be engaged.

completion. At this point in construction we as consultants can add little value in terms of planning, coordination or integration. Instead our work becomes "signage design", or simply the addition of signage, whether it is regulatory or directional, it becomes a mere add-on to the building. Wise clients and architectural firms should engage a consultant on projects right from day one in their conceptual work. In this way a wayfinding consultant can actually provide planning by assessing the paths of the users and finding opportunities to integrate design and improve user experiences, providing wayfinding, not just signage design.

4.9 How does graphic design fit into wayfinding?

Outstanding wayfinding relies on graphic design but goes far beyond this discipline alone. Wayfinding has been traditionally the world of graphic designers however these days a multidisciplinary approach is what's required to create outstanding wayfinding solutions. This requires a dedicated team of industrial designers, information designers, architects, engineers, human centered researchers, wayfinding analysts and graphic artists.