By Dave Clifton
Content Strategy Specialist
When you visit a large workplace for the first time and need to find a specific destination within it, what do you do? If you’re like most people, you start looking for signage.
Where are the elevators? What areas are for authorized employees only?. Every sign gives you the contextual information you need to get to where you need to go. Without wayfinding signage systems, you’d wander aimlessly from floor to floor and, maybe, find the person or department you want.
But just because a facility has signage doesn’t mean it’s automatically useful. In fact, if you can’t see the signage or the continuity between signs is off, signage can make your visit even more confusing. Wayfinding signage systems need to be prominently displayed and well-defined. Here are a few simple tips:.
- Make the message bold. Ambiguity is the bane of wayfinding signage. People want a clear, definitive, undeniable message they can interpret no other way than what it says. Bathrooms on the first right. Company ABC, fifth floor. Whatever the sign says, it needs to really say it! The message needs to be bold to be effective. Keep in mind, people are already looking for that particular message—the purpose of the sign is to confirm what they already know or contextualize that meaning within the greater facilities.
- Maintain a clear line of sight. A sign unseen is one unfollowed. How will anyone know Accounting is down the hall and to the left if there’s a plant obscuring the wall placard? If overhead signs are parallel to the direction of traffic, how will people see them until they’re walking past them? Consider the layout of the space and any obstructions before placing signage. Always maintain a clear line of sight.
- Place in common-sense areas. Signage needs to be intuitive to be effective. If people need to turn a corner, for example, place interior directional signs at the junction—the point of decision. Likewise, place directory signage in the common lobby, where people start their journey through your facilities. Using common sense goes a long way in proper sign placement because it anticipates how people interact with the signage.
- Be as informative as possible. A sign needs to say a lot in a few words. Make sure it delivers a clear message and gives people everything they need to take the next step. Picture a sign that says “Sales, 2” with a picture of stairs next to it and an arrow pointing left. Anyone can reach the same conclusion in seconds—the Sales department is on the second floor, accessed by the stairwell to the left. Simple, yet effective. Even better is interactive wayfinding software that intuitively relays information for greater context than any static sign can provide.
- Stagger signage. Sign overload can be as bad as a lack of signage. Mixed signals or misinterpretation occur when there’s too many directions and too little distinction between them. To avoid this, stagger signage accordingly and make the directions as clear as possible. Continuity is important, so be sure to space signage in a natural flow. Account for junctions and branch points.
- Distinguish signage. If wayfinding signage blends in with the environment, it won’t get the attention it’s meant to. Experiment with colors, shapes, lighting, and mode to distinguish signage from its surroundings. Something as simple as a black placard on a white wall is enough to nab someone’s attention. Similarly, consider the impact of circular signage against square tiles. Contrast demands attention! Distinguishing signs helps bring attention to them and prevents them from fading into the noise of facilities.
- Acclimate people to wayfinding. The easiest way to get people using your wayfinding system is to put it in front of them. Make directory signage the first thing they see when they enter the lobby. Put signage next to every elevator or stairwell. Label every corridor or junction. When wayfinding is ever-present throughout facilities, people naturally gravitate toward it. Best of all, displaying signage throughout increases the effectiveness of the wayfinding system itself.
The goal of wayfinding signage is to always direct people to their intended destination. Second to that, it should get them to a common area where they can get the information they need about their destination. To do this, it needs to be seen and interpreted instantly. That means placing meaningful signage in prominent areas. Follow the tips above to make sure your wayfinding signage is as effective as possible.
Keep reading: Wayfinding Best Practices.