Creating a Successful Wayfinding Plan

Date: 10/01/2015

Q: How would you describe successful wayfinding?
A successful wayfinding design, in my opinion, is something that, as the user, you don’t need to think about. As you navigate a space, if you don’t seek out and look for directional information, but instead it is always obvious and clear, that marks a successful design. Good design goes beyond just signs with arrows; it also involves organizing a space by its different user destinations. For each destination, you create a clear identity as well as strong navigational cues.

Q: Describe the process for creating a wayfinding plan?
I think the first thing is to put yourself in the mindset of the user and navigate the space while asking yourself: Do I know where I am? Do I know where I need to go? Where do I find out? Then you go back and create a concept plan to make sure the information is displayed in consistently obvious locations, allowing the user to easily make correct directional decisions. Next, you start to establish the hierarchy of information types, including: directories, digital or changeable signs, major directional signs, minor directional signage, room identification, code signs, you can also include minor cues represented in the space’s color, materials, and artwork. After you have completed the initial plan, you go back and test it with different users, note your findings and adjust as needed. After the plan is finalized, you begin to design the components.

Q: What are some of your design inspirations when designing wayfinding?
I like to create very concise and timeless wayfinding systems. The display of information comes first and foremost ensuring that the message is clear, visible, code compliant and easy to understand. In addition to first adhering to ADA standards, inspiration really comes from other historically successful wayfinding systems. I often look at large medical centers, airports and even highway traffic signs. I like to make note of what works well and what does not work well. Sometimes you get the opportunity to raise the level of creativity in the design, in these cases the inspiration really comes from within the space itself and the users who will occupy it.

Q: What do you think is the most important thing to keep in mind while working on a wayfinding design?
Consistency. Immediately establishing a consistent aesthetic helps the user feel at ease when searching for navigational cues. Consistency can be found in the materials, fonts, icons, illustration style, size, color and placement of the information. When designing a wayfinding package I like to begin by looking at the component that needs to display the greatest amount of information. I design that piece first, and then use it as a roadmap to set a consistent standard for the entire package.

Rita Lomas has been a designer with Helix since 2003. She specializes in identity & branding, environmental and retail design, signage & wayfinding systems and design standards and guidelines.