Can wayfinding principles improve building design?

By Henri Mariasson, Global Director of Projects.

We have all been there, running late for an appointment, desperately trying to find the right entrance, the right lift, the right corridor, the right door. It is in these moments that we understand what it means to have a good signage and wayfinding program. Wayfinding’s first principle is to direct people through a space to their correct destination, this is typically done using signage to provide those directions. However, a wayfinding program is always responding to the built environment in which it sits. Which means when you get lost in a building, it might not be just because of a poor wayfinding program, it may be because the layout of a space is not conducive to directing guests.

In our experience, there are some buildings where minimal signage is required because guests are almost ushered by the building design to their correct destination. This could be done through sight, sounds, or even smells.  A restaurant in a hotel can be easy to find because the senses are the first thing to be greeted, such as the sound of other guests inside the venue, or the beautiful aromas emanating from the kitchen. In an office, having the reception desk greet you as soon as you walk in, saves you having to search around for where you need to go. The less time a person needs to navigate through a space will give them one less thing to worry about.

Much of the time, physical space limits where venues or facilities can be located on a property, which then prevents an easy navigation of the space. However, even in these situations there are some methods that can improve a guest’s navigation, such as having easily visible entrances to venues or facilities. In malls, some lifts are hidden behind the retail space, often making it difficult for shoppers to locate them. Lifts in the centre of a mall, or located near atriums, not only help shoppers find the lifts but they also serve as a landmark when trying to move around the mall. Another design feature that poses a navigational challenge to hotel guests is the sky lobby. The sky lobby is a fantastic architectural detail, it provides amazing vistas of the city and creates the sought-after Wow factor. However, it is typically located on the highest floor, above the ground floor, and above guestroom floors. When guests need to find the lobby from their room, they must remember to go up to the lobby. This is counter-intuitive to most people as hotels generally have the lobby on the ground floor.

Navigating through a space has a tremendous impact on a person’s experience and wellbeing. Supporting this are a number of papers studying the positive effect Wayfinding Principles have on Architectural design to save time, reduce errors and lower anxiety. A great deal of research concludes that reducing the complexity of the spatial layout and integrating signage into the visual environment will improve a person’s perception of a place. At Corlette the success of our wayfinding and experiential branding is based on our collaborative and integrated approach with all disciplines on a project. The earlier we can start on a project, the earlier we can provide wayfinding advice on the layout of a space. With 40 years’ experience, we are able to improve a person’s experience of place simply by applying wayfinding principles earlier in the architectural or urban design process.

Ultimately, the layout of a space has a large bearing on how well people, guests, or visitors are able to navigate themselves. To help find the way, please get in contact with Corlette and we will help with the rest.

If you’re interested in more information on building for better navigation, below are some interesting reads on the topic;

B. Abrams, Wayfinding in Architecture, University of South Florida, 16 April 2010

E.J Short, S. Reay & P. Gilderdale, Wayfinding for health seeking: Exploring how hospital wayfinding can employ communication design to improve the outpatient experience, Taylor & Francis. Group, 06 Sep 2017.

(Note. Paywall:) M. J. O’Neill, Effects of Signage and Floor Plan Configuration on Wayfinding Accuracy, First Published September 1, 1991.

Image: the Author, Henri Mariasson, wayfinding onsite.