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24 June, 2024

Best advice: How to succeed with wayfinding

In health clinics, in office premises or at airports.
Wherever you operate, it’s important not to make your customers frustrated, annoyed or stressed because they can’t find where they’re going.
That’s when wayfinding is important – leading people in the right direction.
Here are some advice for those of you who are in one way or another involved in projects around visual reference signage.


Showing people the right way is an art in itself and sometimes absolutely crucial for a business to function. Like at airports, train stations or hospitals. And it gets extra complicated if some of your visitors don’t know your language, have poor vision or have other cognitive difficulties. Below, we have compiled some tips for you who are involved in projects around visual reference signage, or wayfinding as it is also called. Other types of reference via tactile solutions or with sound are not covered here.

There are five aspects that determine how best to design your visual wayfinding:

1. Information structure and address system
If the environment is not that big with many destinations, it can work well to refer to the names of the destinations, for example “locker room”. However, in larger facilities with multiple buildings, floors, stairwells or elevators and many destinations, it is not realistic to refer to all destinations from the entrance and all the way through the building or area. Then it is better to set up some kind of address system. It can be as simple as referring to a floor, building or stairwell according to the same principle as we are used to from road numbers, street names or the numbering of terminals and streets at airports. Of course, it is important that all designations are also used consistently throughout.

2. Availability
All people have varying cognitive abilities. For example, many wear glasses and find it difficult to see in poor lighting. If the visitors also consist of different nationalities and age groups, you need to be extra careful that signs and displays are comprehensible and clear. If the operation is covered by the EU’s accessibility directive, the design must meet specific requirements.

In general, the contrast between background and text/graphics should be high (at least 3:1). Choose a clear linear font without heels and thin details and clear established icons that are easy to recognize. The text size should be adapted to the viewing distance. There are guides on the internet to help with this. If the lighting is poor, you can compensate with illuminated signs or supplementary lighting fixtures to illuminate the signs.

Also remember to place the signs at eye level or a maximum of 15 degrees up or down.

People do not normally sweep their eyes vertically to any great extent. The amount of information in the same place or sign must also not be too large. We all have, to a greater or lesser extent, problems in reviewing too much information together. Limit the number of destinations on a sign to five to seven, alternatively group them into groups of three to four.

3. Establish a code
When a visitor comes to a new location where signs have a unique look, they quickly learn which ones are about the referral. Provided they are consistently designed. In order for visitors to easily find and see the signs, they should all have the same size, shape, coloring and typography. But also be consistently positioned. However, color is the strongest recognition factor in that context. Graphics, such as pictograms for toilets or lifts, should of course be the same everywhere they appear.v

4. Aesthetics
Signs, especially if there are many of them, are included as an architectural element in the environment. Therefore, it is nice if they match in terms of coloring and material. That doesn’t mean they should blend in. On the contrary, it is good if they contrast with the background so that they are easy to locate. If the walls and ceiling are painted white, as they often are, it is good if the signs are dark or strongly colored. Using a light background color with dark text can work well in other environments. A disadvantage of that solution is that if the sign needs to be made as an illuminated sign, the entire sign becomes luminous, which makes the text a little harder to read. With a dark background, however, you can let only text and graphics shine.

5. Execution and Durability
Some environments require signs to withstand moisture, wind, chemicals, vandalism or heavy wear, but in most cases indoors, proven materials such as metal, plastic or wood-based materials are sufficient. Often the wayfinding system consists of a very large number of signs, therefore it is wise to choose solutions that require minimal maintenance. For example, LED lights are preferable as they have a longer lifespan than older types of light sources. If texts are often replaced or signs repaired, it is also a good idea to choose a sign system with easily replaceable elements.

When it comes to sustainability, it is primarily the choice of materials, lifespan and energy consumption which is the best long-term solution. Most materials used today are recyclable. Consider requiring your supplier to report emissions so that you can make smart and long-term choices. EPDs can be one way. It is important to make yourself aware and question suppliers so that you make a wise decision. Which lasts over time and which you can stand for.


Read more about EPD, Environmental Product Declaration

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