A Complete Guide to Wayfinding Signage

Mark Woolmer

Wayfinding signage is all around us – and often a resource you may not realise is so prevalent! Whether you’re visiting a business, walking the dogs around the park, attending a doctor’s appointment or dropping a child at school, you’ll use wayfinding to help navigate, work out where to park and follow pathways.

This illustrates the key objective of high-quality wayfinding signage. It improves visitor experiences, ensures customers always know where to access support, and provides seamless, stress-free navigation around compounds, complexes, events, buildings and spaces, indoors and out.

Imagery, colours, logos and design attributes used in wayfinding signage contribute to a professional or welcoming appearance and can set the tone for the way visitors and site users interact with your space – whether a fun, upbeat artistic design or signage created in a heritage style in sympathy with a historic site.

Zoo Wayfinding Fingerpost

The Importance of Wayfinding Signage

Wayfinding covers a broad scope of signage models and placements and should solve any potential question somebody attending your facility or space for the first time may need to ask. For instance, a wayfinding sign is doing exactly what it should if it helps visitors understand:

  • Where they are and where that is in relation to the place they are trying to find.
  • How to navigate through your site to their intended destination.
  • Where to get help, ask a question or register their attendance.
  • How to find a specific point, such as an exit route, reception desk or meeting room.

Great wayfinding promotes a feeling of relaxation and good service, without any concerns that visitors will find your building or property difficult to navigate or that signage and directions are only accessible to the workforce or regular visitors.

Businesses, event managers, outdoor attractions and tourist centres use wayfinding to assist with orientation, helping guests pick and choose the right route – such as a path that is wheelchair accessible – check whether they are on the correct course to their destination, and know what that destination will look like when they arrive.

What Are the Advantages of Wayfinding Signage?

Wayfinding signage means that your visitors are confident of their location and can navigate to their intended spot with the convenience of following signage without needing to request assistance. Wayfinding can be a safety asset, particularly in sites with complex layouts or routes that may be unsuitable for some visitors (think small children, buggies and those with limited mobility).

We’ll look in more detail at design principles and attributes you may wish to include in your wayfinding. However, adding symbols and icons to designate routes with stairs, steep hills or uneven surfaces can be invaluable to some visitor demographics and make their experience far more comfortable.

Other positive outcomes of installing wayfinding signage include:

  • Time efficiencies – if attendees visit your site with pre-booked tickets, appointments or slots, it may be imperative that site navigation is quick and easy.
  • Professional branding – using your logos, brand colours, and designs creates a uniform, cohesive space that can strengthen your brand or company perceptions.
  • Pedestrian safety – wayfinding can be used in parking areas, through routes and delivery bays, ensuring vehicles know which routes to follow and do not enter pedestrian-only zones.

Some wayfinding signs may be mandatory to comply with health and safety regulations or sector-specific requirements. Wayfinding can be used to highlight emergency exits, evacuation routes and fire alarm call points, alongside first aid stations and phones to call for assistance.

What Are the Various Types of Wayfinding Signage?

Most sites tend to combine several wayfinding signage systems and boards, incorporating fingerposts with arrows pointing to the labelled areas, ladder wayfinding with stacked signs for different buildings or places within a campus, and large-scale directional signs designating entrances or main visitor access routes.

We’ve discussed the Five Types of Wayfinding Signage in our earlier guide but have summarised below some of the wayfinding assets that may be suitable for your premise.

Wayfinding Signs for Identification

Identifier signs tell the viewer where they are, often with an adjacent map or display so that they can navigate their route. Identification signs include landmark signs such as icons, plaques and departmental signage.

Directional Wayfinding Signs

What is a fingerpost

Directional signs show the right way to find a point of interest and can be configured at junctions, such as turning left for the exit, right for customer support and heading straight for car parking. Directional wayfinding can also be designed as a directory of departments or units in a site or with colour-coded icons.

Informative Wayfinding Signage

Richmond Public Information Sign

Information signs might indicate your opening hours, conditions of entry, access permissions, pedestrian-only areas, the facilities available or practicalities such as how to summon a lift, open a disability access door, or log into the Wi-Fi.

Wayfinding Signs for Regulatory Compliance

where are signs needed

As we mentioned briefly, some signage is mandatory and might relate to safety considerations such as high voltage lines, steep drops or deep water. Others are necessary to comply with accessibility legislation or are there to encourage conformity with site rules, such as no smoking or no litter dropping.

Compliance signage can be incorporated into wayfinding to ensure you have one visitor touch point covering safety, navigation and important information. Bridleways and parklands are good examples – one signage panel might direct users to the correct path while advising that vehicles are prohibited or must comply with a maximum speed.

Interactive Wayfinding Signage

Digital Interactive Zoo Sign

While signage panels are often thought of as static assets, they can enhance visitor experiences and user satisfaction by encouraging interactivity. Using QR codes, for instance, could prompt visitors to download an app for an attraction, help them purchase an entry ticket, or provide information about paying for parking through your designated payment app.

Interactive wayfinding can add value to the enjoyment of your facility when coordinated with treasure and adventure trails, education about the history of your site, or help to find out more about the species and flora and fauna within a park, conservation area or lakeside region.

We’ve created some more tips specifically for wayfinding in these types of locations in our article, sharing Ideas for Effective Park Wayfinding.

Where Is Wayfinding Signage Most Often Used?

In short, anywhere you might visit that is not easy and intuitive to navigate can benefit from wayfinding signage for the multiple benefits explored. Among the clients, companies, public sector bodies and organisations we work with, partners include:

  • Commercial spaces – office buildings, hotels, apartment blocks, business compounds, car parks, and shopping centres.
  • Public facilities – healthcare centres, hospitals, clinics and GP practices.
  • Transport hubs – airports, bus stations, train stations and business or residential routes.
  • Educational facilities – schools, university campuses, residential schools, colleges, nurseries and other learning environments.
  • Tourist attractions – visitor centres, amusement parks, beachfronts, historical sites, museums, castles and aquariums.
  • Outdoor spaces – sports stadiums, parks, nature reserves, walking paths, cycling routes, bridleways, reservoirs, seafronts and lake lands.

The wayfinding experts at Fitzpatrick Woolmer can recommend specific wayfinding models and placements for indoor or outdoor spaces and have covered some of the most frequently asked questions, such as how long do signs last, within our knowledge guides.

Choosing and Designing Great Wayfinding Signage for Your Site or Facility

Whenever we work with a new customer, our first step is to analyse your objectives and priorities for your wayfinding.

There are several wayfinding principles that may influence the types, sizes and locations of wayfinding installations you pick – such as whether you need large-scale signage for easy visibility, the number of wayfinding units required, and how to ensure one signage point covers all the essential information.

Next, we’ll look at a few guidelines to help create impactful, on-brand and accessible wayfinding signage.

Functionality vs Enjoyment

Depending on the nature of your building or facility, you might want your wayfinding to be exciting, immersive, interesting and engaging – ensuring visitors don’t simply know where to go but find their visit a fun way to spend their time, making them more likely to return or recommend you.

Colour-coding, graphics, arrow trails and beautiful artwork can add real value and emphasise the ethos or history of the area while ensuring signage is eye-catching and memorable.

In a commercial environment, this consideration is equally important. Rather than simply telling guests how to get from one place to the next, your wayfinding signage is a visible asset and often one of the first things a person will see. Professional, aesthetic, branded signage, particularly directional signs at main entrances, creates an excellent impression.

Using Symbols and Icons in Wayfinding Design

Icons are simplistic and universally understandable and can be a fantastic way to make every visitor feel welcome, particularly if you tend to have guests speaking a variety of languages. Symbols might include speed limits, directions to bathroom facilities, icons of birds or wildlife, accessibility icons or arrows – where you can communicate all the important information with minimal text.

Researching your primary customer demographics can help you pin down those symbols that will prove most useful. For instance, the average ages of your visitors might affect your signage, ensuring your facility caters to children, adults, overseas guests, the visually impaired, additional needs and mobility-restricted people.

Prow Yellow Arrow Public Footpath Waymarking Disc

Wayfinding Signage Colours

Some colours carry instant connotations, which can be effective when drawing attention to essential safety warnings or ensuring visitors know which routes are accessible or safe. Colour coding is commonly used in cycle and walking tracks, for example, where some paths are only suited to experienced riders and may be unsafe for children.

Red is linked with fire safety and prohibited activities. It can draw the eye to advise visitors about things they are not allowed to do – perhaps entering a restricted access or staff-only area, lighting a bonfire or barbeque or trying to pass under a low-height vehicle barrier.

Emergency exits are almost always green – the standard colour used in evacuation and emergency lighting.

Warning signs tend to be yellow, a feature colour used to indicate cliff edges, strong tides, high-risk areas such as construction zones, or automated security barriers.

Of course, you may pick colours that are connected to your brand or facility. Consistent colours and shades create a sense of uniformity and can even influence the mood of your site, with neutral, gentle tones often selected for their calming effect in spaces such as hospitals or schools.

Selecting Fonts and Text Styles for Wayfinding Signage

While symbols and graphics can improve the way visitors engage with signage, your choice of fonts and scripts is important. The best practice is to use a font that is easy for the majority of people to read – heavily stylised and swirly calligraphy can be confusing and lose clarity.

Short messages, straightforward directions, and contrasting colours between fonts and backgrounds work perfectly. However, it is essential that you convey all the relevant information so your visitors or site users aren’t stuck without any clear idea of where to go.

Our in-house design teams assist with a wide variety of signage projects, from illustrative, directional signage to creative mapping, and can provide some pointers specific to your wayfinding signage.

Selecting the Right Placements for Wayfinding Signage

Location matters. Signage needs to be in a prominent place but with the right angle and profile so that the target audience can read it, be that a driver, a pedestrian, a delivery vehicle or somebody passing by on a cycle route.

Great wayfinding is in the spot that you would consider obvious were you navigating your way around a building or area you had never visited before. This may not always be the same place as you might automatically assume your wayfinding signage should go!

Walking through your space, imagining that interaction as a first-time visitor, and thinking about access and user demographics will ensure your wayfinding delivers on your objectives.

For further information about wayfinding signage, different types of signage models, and for inspiration about your signage designs, please visit our Products and Wayfinding pages or contact the experienced Fitzpatrick Woolmer team to arrange a convenient time to talk.

Mark Woolmer

Mark Woolmer

With a strong background in art and design, Mark is passionate about the capacity for excellent design as a communication tool, leading the Fitzpatrick Woolmer company and focusing on strategy, business development and continual improvement.

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