7 wayfinding rules you need to know

Wayfinding is both an art and a science – encountered by all, understood by few. If you’re embarking on your first signage rebrand or wayfinding project, here are a few tried-and-tested rules to follow, which are considered ‘best practice’ for wayfinding.

Rule #1: A picture is worth 1000 words

Symbols and icons are incredibly effective in crossing language barriers. ‘Washroom’, ‘Lavatories’ and ‘WC’ can all be understood with one universally understood icon – just one of countless examples where pictograms communicate more effectively than written words.

Rule #2: Less is more

Too much information can be overwhelming. Be concise, particularly in vehicular scenarios where drivers and pedestrians need to make decisions quickly. Too many signs in the same location also affect people’s ability to absorb information effectively.

Rule #3: Stronger in contrast

Contrast improves the legibility of signs – it’s no accident that so many signs combine dark and light colours. Black on yellow; white on black; yellow on black; black on white; and blue on white are all good choices.

Choosing the right typeface also makes the difference between a good or bad sign. When using overly light-weighted typefaces, the text will disappear into the background, especially when viewed at a distance. Medium or regular weights are best.

Rule #4: Heads up, not North up

Many of the most effective wayfinding systems incorporate maps as a key element. Bear in mind that people are now more accustomed to the ‘heads up’ view rather than the conventional ‘North up’ view of maps due to the recent introduction of vehicular satellite navigation.

Highlighting nearby landmarks will also help people better understand their surroundings.

Rule #5: Signs are high-maintenance

Maintaining signs is very important. Signs can be vandalised, obscured, or degrade over time – you’ll need to maintain them to ensure they remain clearly visible and legible.

Rule #6: Context is everything

Signage should complement and enhance the surrounding environment so choose colours and shapes that stand out – yet don’t clash – with nearby buildings and features. It’s also important to reduce visual clutter by ensuring clear sight lines to both the sign and destination.

Rule #7: Be consistent

Consistency is essential. Make sure you apply the same terms and spellings across the entire signage system to avoid confusion. It’s equally important to strike a balance between ‘professional’ terminology and people’s preference for simple, easy to understand language.

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