What in the World is Wayfinding?

Wayfinding (noun) - as defined by Trademark

A system strategically designed to help navigate, inform and communicate. These systems help guide individuals through a space, utilizing a specific series of symbols, directional cues, maps, and colors uniquely developed for that space.

We are often creating wayfinding systems for our clients and as different as each system can be, they are still inherently similar in their goals and concepts. Wayfinding is the creation of a system that helps the viewer find their way through a physical environment. These systems can be found all around us; integral in public transportation systems, as maps on city streets or in any large buildings. 

The goal is to create a system that is as simple as possible and yet gives enough information to communicate the best path effectively to the viewer. We find that David Gibson, in his book The Wayfinding Handbook, illustrates our philosophy perfectly;

"The wayfinding designer is responsible for enhancing how a space is experienced by finding order in chaos without destroying character...wayfinding design provides guidance and the means to help people feel at ease in their surroundings," (Gibson, David. The Wayfinding Handbook. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2009. Print.)

Thus, it is our responsibility as designers to observe the area in which our signs will be living and design a system that will enhance the natural feeling of a place. Not only is our job to create a cohesive feel, but to also have signage that is apparent enough for our audience to always know where they are in relation to where they may want to go. 

Think of the instances you have been in unfamiliar surroundings and are unsure of your next destination.

Being in unfamiliar buildings can be a distressing experience as it is, but an unfamiliar building with bad wayfinding is reminiscent of the first day of high school when you missed orientation day. Passing through large doorways and into hallways with room titles placed sparsely throughout the building, you might be able to follow the flow of people to the classroom you are looking for, but then what? How do you get to the next room? What if you need to use the restroom? Do you wait until you randomly find one or do you take your chances and wander the halls? Aimlessly looking for that little sign of that nearly universal, blocky, person-shaped image, tacked to a door in a dark corner.

Take a look at our prominent, question-free wayfinding system for Athlos below.

Athlos, Boise, ID

Do you remember being a child during times where, in typical child-like fashion, you were oblivious to the urgency of being late for your after school or summer activity? You tried to keep up as your parent rushed you through the hallways. Back then, you couldn’t quite understand why you weren't allowed to hang out with your parents all day. Now you understand that toting a child through a labyrinth of a building, when you’re already late, is not something that any parent enjoys.

You can check out our stress-free Wayfinding designed for South Meridian YMCA below

South Meridian YMCA Wayfinding

Floors upon floors with long hallways adorned in the same patterned carpet and the identical doors, all lined up in rows, one after the other. Part of what made The Shining so terrifyingly disorienting was the insane repetition of that confined space. Now, the Grove Hotel in Boise, Idaho is nothing like the Overlook Hotel, you won't see two little girls asking you to come and play or find anyone riding around the hallways on a big wheel, but without guidance in any hotel, you could very easily start to feel like you were going to get as lost in your own mind as Jack Nicholson.

See our sanity-saving Grove Hotel wayfinding below.


Grove Hotel Wayfinding. Boise, ID

Wayfinding and design is the ever-present beacon of directional knowledge, bridging time and space alike. Providing not only direction through the physical world but also communicating through time to several generations of people as they pass along the same paths as those before them. All placed strategically in view by another human being, knowing that they are going to be guiding future individuals. Without it, we would all be lost in this great wide world. Our job as designers is to help you find your way.