This article is an introduction to wayfinding signage design and how wayfinding works. You will learn about wayfinding, signage design and typography to create a clear and concise wayfinding system that applies the built environment.
The need for people to navigate from one place to another is a basic human activity and a fundamental part of everyday life. Where are you heading to? Where are you now? People use their knowledge and prior experiences to find their way in the built environment. The human perception of the built environment and information in a space comes down to balance and focus. What do you see? Why did you see it? What did you do with the information?
Wayfinding Signage Basics
Wayfinding has the function to inform people of the surroundings in the (unfamiliar) build environment; it is important to show information at strategic points to guide people in the right directions. Complex structures in the built environment are interpreted, understood and stored by the human memory. Details such as distances, locations remembered differently than they appear to be in reality.
An effective wayfinding system is based on human behaviour and consists of the following characteristics:
- Do not make them think
Create a comprehensive, clear and consistent visual communication system with concise messaging.
- Show only what is needed
Show information what relevant is to the space, location and / or navigation path.
- Remove excessive information
Remove redundent elements in order to create a clear, visual environment ahead.
How do people orientate, navigate or remember the built environment? Why will people recognise or understand one place more comfortable than another? As shown in the images on the left, a geographical map versus cognitive (mental) map = reality versus human psychological memory. When creating a wayfinding scheme, the following characteristics influence the way we interpreted the built environment.
To create a legible environment, it is necessary to mark specific spaces and locations. This increases the recognition of places, and plays a part in overseeing a larger area. With the use of landmarks and other marking elements an area will become more visible and will be understood better by people. Landmarks can be anything from street art, public buildings, wayfinding signs or landscaping. These elements combined will shape the identity of an unknown area as seen from your perspective.
In order to navigate, you need to know where you currently are and where other destinations are located in relation to that. Preferably it is also good to know the distance in time from one place to another. If you can orientate yourself within the built environment, it will be easier to understand destinations and to navigate by landmarks. In wayfinding, maps are commonly used to indicate your location. The use of maps is a very powerful way of expressing and overseeing the built environment. Be sure to display the maps heads-up in the direction the user-facing, this way you can easily relate yourself to the built environment.
Navigating the physical reference to a particular area, setting or destination. With the usage of directional (static) signs, people will be guided along their path towards the destination(s).
Strategic Wayfinding design
When creating a signage system for an area, building or architectural structure, it is essential to develop a strategic wayfinding scheme. With this step, you can build up a modular wayfinding system that will adapt to the built environment and the human expectations for orientation and navigation purposes. Research is an important step to understand the built environment and where information is needed to maximise legibility of the wayfinding system.
signage designSignage Design Basics
There are four important type of signs: Information signs, for instance, a sign pole with locate a destination and/or to orientate yourself in the built environment. Directional signs, where information is displayed to find destinations, located on several strategic points in the built environment. Identification signs, where information about individual locations is displayed such as buildings, locations and public facilities. Warning signs, to indicate safety procedures such as a fire escape routes, no smoking areas and other regulations that is, or is not allowed in a specific area.
To make a signage system work together, a design grid is used to order information and to scale the signs to different sizes, as part of the sign family.
A signage typeface is usually a sans-serif type and available in various weights with a simple easy-to-read straightforward design. They have good legibility with a large X-Height and wide letter proportions with prominent ascenders/descenders to ensure good readability.
When using an easy-to-read font, the typeface is recognisable for many people to read and to understand the message clearly. Therefore the choice of a signage typeface is one of the key factors to make a wayfinding system work. When selecting a typeface for a signage design/wayfinding project, please use the following characteristics:
- A clear and straightforward type design, sans-serif
- Easy recognizable letterforms
- Positive letter spacing to enhance the visual appearance
- The Font Family includes a package of many different weights
- The typeface has a large X-height for good readability
signage designSignage Design
Be consistent in typography, type height, icons, grid design, colour and material choice. The signs need to be straightforward designed and in a consistent order to the wayfinding scheme, always use the same order of displaying the information. Remember to make samples of the different sign types and check them in the built environment to ensure it becomes a best-practice design.
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