Wayfinding – what is it?

Compass positioned on top of map

A wayfinding system incorporates branding, signs, maps and directional devices that tell us where we are, where we want to go, and how to get there. Symbols can contribute simplicity, clarity and personality to a wayfinding system.  Wayfinding systems are signposted using a combination of symbols and text, colour. In areas where there will be users who speak many languages, signs need to be non-language dependent. Most of us have experienced airports, hospitals, sports stadiums and car parks that rely on pictograms, numbering, and colour coding with multilingual maps or computer information kiosks.

When signage works, it helps us move with confidence in unfamiliar locations. Recently my wife and I took a holiday to Tokyo. The Tokyo subway system is extensive and complicated however the wayfinding system in place did not require my wife and me to be able to speak or read Japanese.  In fact, we moved throughout the city with surprising ease with the use of colour coding, station numbers etc.

A successful wayfinding system can ultimately save us time and frustration. Understanding wayfinding begins with understanding how users orient themselves within their environment. The concept of wayfinding as applied to web design may sound like something new. The reality is that designers are in fact practising good wayfinding when they take time to plan their websites that leverage what users already know or find familiar. On a web page, common elements and containers for information and navigation are built around an expected a set of navigational cues. The fewer the environmental cues to facilitate own patient, the less ability people have to be able to perform an appropriate mental model of the surroundings. Thus, the more likely they will have difficulty orienting themselves on the website or application. Alternatively, too many cues to orientation may flood their mental schemas with unnecessary detail, hindering their ability to orientate within a single webpage and subsequently the entire website as well.

teamSimon is a Sydney based digital designer. He is the Director of a boutique digital design studio, Bailey Street Design located in the vibrant inner west suburb of Newtown. Simon studied graphic design at Shillington College and specialises in web design for small and medium size businesses. Simon and his team (Toby the studio dog) are passionate about visual communication in the digital environment

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