A Simple Guide to Wayfinding
What is wayfinding, and how does it impact my brand?

Wayfinding is a concept you might not have heard of before, but it has guided you around many places in your life. It’s a central part of branding and signage, yet it doesn’t get the same publicity as some of its display-oriented cousins. In this article, we investigate what wayfinding is, how it benefits customers, and ways to ensure it is deployed effectively…

Wayfinding has been defined as the process of guiding people through a particular environment while giving them a sense of place. It involves identifying your current location, pointing out where a particular destination is situated and then offering guidance about the best route to take. From overhead supermarket aisle signage to outdoor You Are Here boards, most buildings and many public areas will incorporate it to some degree. Councils and tourist boards frequently deploy wayfinding maps to establish current locations and guide visitors to points of interest, while it’s also common in transport hubs like bus or train stations.

As well as maps and Way Out notices, wayfinding can take other forms such as floor-by-floor identification outside a lift, or even coloured lines running along factory walls to signify a particular route for goods or deliveries. Wayfinding is gradually expanding to encompass digital displays and apps, though printed wayfinding such as outdoor panels to overhead signs remains hugely important.

The first criteria that underpins effective wayfinding is clarity. This isn’t the place to be experimenting with italicised fonts or artistic drawings – it should be immediately obvious to everyone what message a particular sign conveys. Signage should be large and brightly coloured so it can be easily spotted, positioned at a height where it can be seen from a good distance, and displayed with large lettering against a contrasting background. Wayfinding has to be clearly visible at any time of day or night, and it should also be very concise…

In most large supermarkets, each aisle will have an overhead sign highlighting one or two key food types. There’s no need to list every product sold on that aisle, because this would be an overwhelming amount of information. However, if you know a particular aisle sells cereal, it’s a good bet that muesli and breakfast bars will be in close proximity. One or two words can be sufficient to direct shoppers to potential destinations, while the essential ‘please pay here’ wayfinding will steer customers to the checkouts when they’re finished.

Colour-coding is an increasingly popular method of wayfinding. One multi-storey car park in central Glasgow has each floor emblazoned with a different colour scheme, starting with red and progressing through the rainbow on upper tiers. The effect is subliminal yet effective in terms of enabling shoppers to navigate back to their vehicles. Offices are increasingly adopting contrasting colours to differentiate meeting rooms or work zones, while train stations have begun installing brightly-coloured lines along their floors. These lead to key destinations like a ticket office, or a dedicated platform for an airport express service.

Colour, brevity and prominence all help to ensure that wayfinding displays the minimum amount of information required to convey a particular message. It should be relevant to the widest audience (everyone in a shop will need to know where the cash desks are, for instance), and it should only ever show information that’s necessary. In such circumstances, the introduction of a more robust wayfinding strategy can become a valuable addition, benefitting everything from customer experience right through to the bottom line.