Wayfinding. It’s a Thing.

Written by
Kyle Sherman
Published on
October 31, 2021 8:00:00 AM PDT October 31, 2021 8:00:00 AM PDTst, October 31, 2021 8:00:00 AM PDT

Architectural designers have a way to help you find your way in an unfamiliar place. It’s called wayfinding. And there’s a science to it.

To create an effective navigation route for any place people visit, designers follower these five principles:


1. Create a unique identity for each step – Every turn in the road can function as a recognizable point of reference that a visitor can use to determine where they are and where they’re going. Memorable landmarks are the first criterion for navigability and usually have a special name. Of the turn is marked by something unique, such as a sign.

2. Create well-structured paths that move through identifiable regions – A person should be able to determine direction, distance and progress to a destination by a well-structured path that has a beginning, a middle and an end. For instance, interstate highways have entrances and exits clearly marked by signs, with mile markers to indicate distance and progress to a destination. Well-structured “paths” lead people through a storyline or narration, such as in a museum or an arboretum.

3. Give visitors minimal choices for navigation – Encourage visitors to stay on the main course, even if they decide to take a detour, side-tours or another opportunity for exploration and eventually return to the original journey.

4. Use maps supported by signs – One of the most valuable aids for navigation is a location map that gives an all-encompassing view of the space. Signs posted in places where a person needs to make a wayfinding decision –whether to continue along a current route or change direction- support the big picture of a map by identifying specific areas.

5. Show visitors what lies ahead – A first-time visitor to a place may not know what to expect. Entice them to move forward with a preview of a new or unusual feature that’s waiting for them at the end of a hallway or up the stairs. It’s another way to spark interest in following a path to a destination.


Where Does “Wayfinding” Originate?

The spatial problem-solving method of wayfinding is first coined by American architect and urban planner Kevin Lynch in the 1960’s. It describes a traditional design principle of navigation that helps visitors make their way around an unfamiliar place with ease – how they visualize navigation using clues that help them get from point “A” to point “B,” such as landmarks, paths, edges, intersections and the signs that help to identify them.


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