Industry Insights: Why Wayfinding Matters

In recent years, communities of all sizes have developed wayfinding systems to help tourists and locals better get around while offering more information about key destinations.

These systems have proven extremely valuable during the recent economic downturn. In Lancaster, PA, for instance, five key tourist destinations saw a 10 percent increase in visitors after a wayfinding system was implemented.

There is no doubt that more cities are exploring these often-lengthy programs. ISA and the Signage Foundation, Inc., recently released a new guide, “Urban Wayfinding Planning and Implementation Manual” and a related series of webinars to help the sign industry and local officials navigate this complex world.

Wayfinding systems are designed to help those who wander find their destinations. In many ways, the ISA/SFI material should help sign companies—and even those who focus solely on print—learn more this new and expanding field. Below are four facts you need to know now:

1). These systems require significant planning and creative financing. Financing of any municipal project is likely to get extra scrutiny these days. But wayfinding programs do show a solid return on investment in hard dollars—such as the aforementioned 10 percent increase in attendance—and in user satisfaction. The manual includes a list of the most common opportunities for financing, including grants, donations and business improvement districts.

The city of San Diego, for instance, created a special parking district where a percentage of parking meter fees were used to finance the wayfinding program.

2). Wayfinding presents an opportunity for the sign industry to offer community leadership. Just as SFI and ISA have taken the lead on creating the resource material, the sign industry can work on the local level to provide expertise as communities explore these systems. Materials play an important role and long-term maintenance factors heavily into the budget. Typography and visibility for pedestrians and vehicles is important. These are areas in which our industry has know-how and can offer a resource to communities. If your community is considering a wayfinding system, volunteer to serve on a committee. And if discussions haven’t yet begun, start learning more and bringing wayfinding to the attention of community leaders.

3). Wayfinding systems can incorporate the best of what signage has to offer—as well as the best in mobile navigation. If there is any question that mobile technology might one day overtake signage as the preferred method of navigation, wayfinding systems refute that. Most of the wayfinding systems put in place in recent years have been a blend of mobile apps plus physical signage. Having the physical and online worlds work together in wayfinding can provide a road map for the way that other types of signage can integrate mobile in the future.

4). Print has a role to play. The city of Philadelphia has one of the oldest and most extensive wayfinding systems in the country. As it has grown and expanded beyond the Center City, it has encompassed various other mediums, including banners, print maps, websites and visitor center information. Don’t dismiss wayfinding as a business boost for architectural signage. Print and banners can integrate into the overall system—if someone offers the idea at the outset. Print and banners are much easier to change out seasonally or for events and can play an important role in the overall system.

The sign industry isn’t expected to be an expert on all facets of wayfinding. However, finding a copy of the manual—available through the SFI website,—can help users brainstorm ideas and identify the experts needed to explore the various facets. Build the right team at the outset, incorporating planners, designers, and architects.

This is a major trend that is happening in communities of all sizes, and some have excelled. They are featured in the case studies that are included in the manual. Get up to speed and learn to navigate wayfinding. The business you build may just include your own.