What are Wayfinding Sign Systems?
15 September 2021
3 minute read
It would be considered a simple question with a straightforward answer and yet it isn’t always as easy to explain.
According to the Society for Experiential Graphic Design, or SEGD, “Wayfinding refers to information systems that guide people through a physical environment and enhance their understanding and experience of the space.”
Simply put, wayfinding is a system of elements working together to aid people to connect to places. Wayfinding consists of signs, maps, and other visual clues to help guide people to their destinations.
Source: Bristol Legible City on-street pedestrian wayfinding system
THE HISTORY OF WAYFINDING
Wayfinding has been around for centuries. As we’ve needed to move through our environment, we’ve used signs to direct our way.
Polynesian civilisations were said to use the sun, stars, wave, and cloud patterns to navigate their journeys to land. Greek’s and Roman’s developed what is considered the foundation for modern wayfinding solutions. Using signs with images and words to guide people along long stretches of road. In more recent times and with the invention of the motorcar people realised they required more complex sign design.
Kevin Lynch, an urban planner, first used the term ‘way-finding’ in his 1960 book ‘The Image of a City’. Since then, architects came to the realisation that buildings shouldn’t be developed without connecting people to these environments.
Wayfinding has evolved with the development of airports, train stations, hospitals, and shopping centers. Creating good wayfinding with the physical environment in mind.
The past few years have seen huge improvements and developments. Mainly due to the persistent pace of economic growth, combined with advancements in technology, science, and even psychology.
Source: Signscape and Signconex lecterns and interpretational display panels
THE PURPOSE OF WAYFINDING
Effective wayfinding not only provides directions but can also have environmental social and economic benefits. Signage can inform pedestrians and cyclists of safe routes and convey information about distance and points of interest along the route. Wayfinding signs also act as visual prompts, encouraging people to walk and use public or alternative means of transport. These signs can persuade people to explore their environment, visit attractions and make use of local shops.
Source: Signscape and Signconex bespoke glass face monolith
Besides its directional function, wayfinding can create a sense of community and highlight a location’s unique history. Sign makers like us, urban planners, designers and architects have been working with communities to develop more ‘legible cities’.
Wayfinding is designed with a network of directional signs, on-street interpretational panels and printed walking maps. These sign systems create a cohesive visual identity through a large urban area or city. Bringing individual attractions and points of interest together as one connected built environment.
As cities approach a technologically charged future it has become common place for technology and signage to combine features and benefits. A key feature being solar energy as it requires less infrastructure disturbance and promotes green living.
Furthermore, creating more inclusive signage has been a bigger focal point over recent years. Integrating braille, considering colour for those with sight impairments and the height and angle of signs to be more accommodating. A simplified written language, enhanced legibility, and incorporation of sound to provide interactive guidance.
Whatever the type of wayfinding sign system, it is important to ensure a journey narrative is created. With purpose and community at the heart of it.
Source: Signscape and Signconex contemporary waypoint fingerpost
WAYFINDING INTO THE FUTURE
Increasingly, digital displays and other technologies are being integrated into wayfinding systems. The shift towards technology seems irresistible. As we now use maps on smartphones to navigate cities, QR Codes to find attraction information and Google for mapped interiors such as museums.
But it can be argued that wayfinding still offers a full sensory experience. The sights, sounds and colours of a neighbourhood, the texture of the surfaces, and how the surroundings make them feel.
Navigation from one location to another has never been easier. It’s worth remembering that there’s more to wayfinding than simply finding your way.
Source: Signscape and Signconex solar display bespoke totem
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