By Dave Clifton
Content Strategy Specialist

Whether you’re hitting the open road or trying to navigate the subway, there’s nothing more useful than a map. The same goes for getting your bearings in a building. Wayfinding maps are an essential tool for figuring out where you are, what’s nearby, and where you are in relation to your destination. But unlike a fold-up roadmap or a static subway sign, today’s facility wayfinding maps are feature-rich and digitally accessible.

The broad capabilities of wayfinding maps make them particularly useful in helping both employees and visitors navigate facilities. Making sure maps are effective tools means imbuing them with robust features that improve usability. Here’s how to make sure your wayfinding maps are as helpful as possible to the people using them.

Present a scalable view

What is a wayfinding map without the ability to scale? Especially for bigger campuses or more complex floor plans, being able to zoom in and out is imperative. Anyone looking at a map will appreciate the ability to focus on their location and immediate surroundings, while zooming out to see them in the context of greater facilities.

Mobile wayfinding maps make scalability easier than ever. The natural pinch-to-zoom feature of smartphones allows users to manipulate maps freely, without having to flip between different scale versions.

Label points of interest

Digital wayfinding offers an important map element that tangible maps don’t: the ability to label important points of interest. On a smartphone screen these points show up illuminated and clickable, providing more information.

For example, someone standing at a junction may see an icon on their smartphone map. Clicking it, it shows them a comprehensive listing of what’s to the left and right, so they can stay on track to where they’re going. Or, in another example, a bathroom symbol may appear. When clicked it can provide information about whether the bathroom is open or closed for cleaning, or if it has a baby changing station.

There’s limitless possibilities for points of interest. Include whatever may be important to people using the wayfinding app.

Deliver a top-down, 3D floor plan

Digital rendering opens up a world of possibilities for wayfinding map design, including the third dimension, which just isn’t possible on paper. Providing users with a 3D wayfinding map is a great opportunity to give them more context about the facilities around them. From being able to see the nuances of the physical space in a rendering, to confirming context of location by looking at the map, 3D provides much-needed detail.

Providing a 3D floor plan with a top-down view is even more beneficial. Looking down into the space helps someone get their bearings better. Then, when they’re comfortable with their position, they can pinch, turn, and change the angle of the map to continue navigating confidently. The 3D framework of the map lends familiarity to the navigation process because what someone sees on the screen will be what they see in front of them.

Display relevant information in context

A well-designed wayfinding map has more than the floor plan or a schematic mockup of the building. It also has useful tools for providing context and information. The simplest example is a compass rose. Being able to see which way is up, so to speak, helps people establish their heading en route to a destination.

Alongside a compass rose, consider other elements to contextualize the map itself. For campuses, a scale measure is useful, showing distance between buildings or landmarks. In large facilities, having an icon key helps people identify map callouts that may not be instantly recognizable—things like information kiosks, construction, emergency exits, and more. It adds another layer of confidence to wayfinding best practices.

Color code for clarity

Are your facilities separated in a distinct way? Use color on your wayfinding maps to signify this. Shading the Accounting department in green, showing Sales in red, or highlighting Human Resources in yellow lets people know exactly what space belongs to which department. Color is also useful for marking areas of interest. Bathrooms are blue, emergency exits red, and kiosks orange.

Color distinguishes important information—especially against the grayscale backdrop of a traditional wayfinding map or floor plan. Just make sure to use color consistently and don’t overwhelm viewers with too many colors. Color should add clarity, not confusion.

Maps are central to the wayfinding experience

Wayfinding maps provide context for any form of navigation. Whether a person needs to find a specific office or just figure out where they are, they’ll need a map to do it. The more robust you can make your wayfinding maps, the better they’ll serve people in navigating your facilities. It won’t take long for someone to get their bearings!

Keep reading: Wayfinding Signage System Tips.