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The Right of Way: Understanding Wayfinding Signs

Article Date: June 28, 2024


What are Wayfinding Signs?

Wayfinding signs are public signages installed in various locations to help people navigate unfamiliar areas. These signs are not just about pointing directions; they provide vital information on what actions are allowed or restricted within that location. Whether in outdoor environments like streets, roads, and parks or indoor settings such as malls, schools, and libraries, wayfinding signs play an important role in helping people understand their surroundings and move efficiently from one point to another. Wayfinding signs use standard designs and universally recognized symbols so that anyone can easily understand them.

Wayfinding Signs vs. Traffic/Directional Signs

Traffic signs are made specifically to manage road traffic flow and safety. Directional signs, on the other hand, provide straightforward navigational cues like arrows pointing towards exits or specific facilities. Wayfinding signs cover these elements but extend further by offering a comprehensive guide on what people should and shouldn't do in these areas.

Simply put, a directional sign will point you toward the location you want to go, while a wayfinding sign might include information about specific amenities located in that direction, give safety instructions, or highlight off-limits areas.

The Different Wayfinding Signs And Their Purpose

Identification Signs

Street_Signs_and_Wayfinding - Identification Signs
These public identification signs help people determine their current location. One glance at the signs, and people can immediately tell what to look for in that area or contact their friends or family members to meet up at that location. Restroom signs, grocery aisle numbers, and hotel room numbers are common indoor identification signs.

Outdoors, these signs often come in the form of bus stops, taxi and commuter stands, and train station signs. Of course, the most common identification signs are the overhead signs on top of restaurants, wall signs outside of establishments, and house numbers for home addresses.

Directional Signs

Street_Signs_and_Wayfinding - Directional Signs
Directional signs are designed to guide people towards their destinations by pointing them in the right direction. These signs are crucial for efficient navigation, often incorporating pedestrian signage to help them move within the area.

A lot of indoor directional signs we’re familiar with are in places like malls, hotels, airports, and office buildings, while the street signs and outdoor identification signs cover most outdoor directional signages. If you pair these directional signs with the informational wayfinding signs, you can easily enhance the accessibility of your establishment.

Regulatory Signs

Street_Signs_and_Wayfinding - Regulatory Signs
Regulatory signs communicate the rules and regulations within a given area. Typically featuring prohibitive messages such as "Do not enter," "Restricted area," and "Personnel only," these signs serve as advisories against illegal/prohibited actions. Beyond merely restricting movement, regulatory signs also address specific activities, including "Do not smoke," "Drug-free zone," "No parking," "No pets allowed," and "Exit Only/Entrance Only." By clearly outlining what is and isn’t permitted, regulatory signs ensure safety, compliance, and order for individuals and the location.

What Makes a Good Wayfinding Sign?

Designing a good wayfinding sign should focus on visibility, readability, and strategic placement, making navigation intuitive and stress-free. Effective wayfinding signs use universal symbols and color psychology to be easily distinguished and understood by most people. The signs should also be accessible and easy to read. Clear fonts, appropriate sizes, and non-glare surfaces contribute to their effectiveness, allowing passersby to quickly get the necessary information without confusion.

Wayfinding signs should also convey some form of authority. Regulatory and prohibition signs must ensure compliance for those who see them and send a message that people should follow to maintain order and safety.

When people trust that the signs are correct and authoritative, they are likelier to follow the guidance provided, enhancing overall efficiency and safety of travel in an area. Well-designed wayfinding signs are vital in unfamiliar environments, whether it’s a small public area or an entire city. They facilitate movement and enhance the user experience, making places more welcoming and navigable for everyone.

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