Why you Shouldn't Under Estimate the Value of Good Wayfinding
The term wayfinding was first used by architect Kevin Lynch in 1960 to describe the role of maps, street numbers, directional signs, and other "wayfinding" devices in cities. He defined the term as ‘the consistent organisation of sensory cues in the external environment’* and although wayfinding has developed hugely as a discipline since then, the underlying sentiment of Lynch’s definition has remained much the same.
Put simply, the role of wayfinding is to help people navigate and find their destinations as easily as possible. Effective wayfinding is however far more complex than just adding signs and requires careful planning, consideration and execution. In order to create a sound wayfinding solution rigorous research must be done on the visitor’s behaviours, the navigation and destination requirements, the language and cultural needs of the user, and the space and architecture that is being used. For a wayfinding strategy to stand any chance of working, it must be integrated into the architecture of the building or outdoor space right from the beginning of a project and not simply some signage added in at the end.
The types of signage that we all experience in shopping centres, rail stations, airports and roads, should tell us where we are and help us get to where we want to go. In these often-stressful environments, an effective wayfinding system should provide a sense of comfort, control and satisfaction to our experience. Imagine, for example being in a large, busy railway station, with platforms at various levels, numerous exit points, and several lifts and routes that could take you in many different directions. How else would you seamlessly move from A to B if it wasn’t for clear, easy to identify signs? A great example is London Bridge, one of our largest wayfinding projects to date, where we manufactured and installed hundreds of bespoke signs to deliver a complex system. With over 56 million people passing through this station each year, this project illustrates perfectly the importance of wayfinding as a means to keep people moving effortlessly though what would otherwise be a confusing, stressful environment.
With its growing importance, wayfinding, as an academic field has developed considerably in recent years, and many best practices are now driven by analysis. Besides the obvious aim of helping people find their destination, effective wayfinding systems now prove that they have many important roles to play. Some of the benefits can be illustrated from a study by Michael J. O’Neil’s*, who examined the effects that the introduction of wayfinding had on a large university campus. Following the addition of signage at various buildings within the complex, O’Neil’s research concluded that there was a 13% increase in the rate of travel, a 50% decrease in people taking wrong turns and a 62% decrease in backtracking.
In addition to the physical benefits, wayfinding also allows an organisation to reinforce a strong brand presence. As companies continue to invest heavily in creating a unique brand that sets them apart from competitors, good wayfinding acts as an important extension of this. By using strong, impactful graphics at numerous touch points, the results are very likely to leave the visitor with a strong lasting impression of both the brand and the experience. In retail for example, a profitable store will generally experiment with new ways to retain their customers attention by incorporating a strong visual brand presence whilst also implementing the best practices proven to enhance the relationship between the customer journey and bottom line sales. Whilst signs alone will not create effective retail wayfinding, combining them with strong branding, space design and analysis should deliver an effortless flow around the store.
The benefits of wayfinding are far reaching; from improving customer experiences, reinforcing branding and maximising revenues. We have been lucky to work on delivering a vast number of wayfinding solutions across many sectors and look forward to working on many more in the future.
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*CHAPTER TWO KEVIN LYNCH MAPPING METHOD:
*Effects of Signage and Floor Plan Configuration on Wayfinding Accuracy
Michael J. O'Neill