healthcare branding strategies

6 Wayfinding Signage Best Practices to Get Them Where They Need to Go

Published on: May 9, 2019

An excellent wayfinding program is a subtle but powerful asset. When wayfinding is done well, few visitors to your property will even notice the signs that guide them to their destination.

We only notice wayfinding systems when they’re causing problems. Hospital patients feel lost and stressed before their appointments. Frequent fliers arrive late to their gates in major airports. Drivers struggle to locate their vehicles in parking garages. These problems can sometimes stem from poorly conceived signage—and can be remedied by implementing strategic wayfinding design that better fits the needs of your clients.

Using the six wayfinding signage best practices below, you can evaluate your current wayfinding system and determine key areas for improvement. These criteria also serve as an effective measuring stick to help you identify the best wayfinding design firm to partner with in order to optimize your commercial space.

The Top 6 Wayfinding Signage Best Practices

1. Choose user-friendly and consistent language.

The quickest way to confuse healthcare patients is to have “ophthalmology” and “otolaryngology” side-by-side on the same directional sign—yet so many hospitals use these terms to guide visitors through their maze of departments. A better solution would be to design a wayfinding program around user-friendly terms and universal iconography, and reinforce this language consistently across all touchpoints.

For example, referring to the ophthalmology area of the hospital as Department 1A would help improve clarity, increase font size on signs, and ease self-navigation. Using alpha-numeric codes to refer to departments also simplifies the process of creating multilingual wayfinding signs, which are necessary in many complex commercial environments.

2. Practice progressive disclosure.

When you’re dealing with a poorly-functioning wayfinding system, “more signs” is not an effective solution. In fact, a successful wayfinding program uses fewer signs to divulge information on a step-by-step basis. By following the principle of progressive disclosure, you should only provide visitors with enough information to make one small choice at a time. Departures or arrivals? Hospital or emergency room? Rather than providing an overwhelming list of options right at the beginning, progressive wayfinding signs help users navigate to their final destination in a logical sequence without overwhelming them with information.

3. Strategize for integrated wayfinding.

In today’s digital world, signs are only one part of the solution. Modern wayfinding strategy integrates environmental graphics with digital elements and in-person interactions. Successfully integrated wayfinding programs start with pre-arrival tools like mobile apps, appointment cards, and reminder messages. Upon arrival, visitors are guided by external identification and directional signs. Interior navigation flows smoothly from there. In an integrated system, all elements combine to fully immerse visitors in the language of wayfinding.

4. Test before you invest.

Most firms can design a wayfinding program that meets the first three criteria on this list. The best wayfinding design companies take things a step further by providing renderings and prototypes to help all stakeholders envision how the hierarchy of signs will look and feel in your space. When considering potential partners, ask if the firms on your list can solicit stakeholder interviews, collect staff surveys, and perform user group testing. All of these measures ensure your new wayfinding solution is effective before you make a full investment.

5. Don’t forget about staff training.

Once a new wayfinding program is implemented, most companies would consider their job finished. But it’s crucial that you support your program through comprehensive staff training. You need to get everyone on board with the new system—from facilities managers to department heads to receptionists. By training your staff on the same wayfinding language, you can ensure your visitors don’t receive conflicting sets of directions when they ask for help on the way to their destination.

6. Establish lasting sign standards.

Finally, it’s always a good idea to establish a set of sign standards when you’re investing in wayfinding design. Whether your project involves one building or 600, you need to make sure your new wayfinding system can expand and evolve as your needs change. Sign standards help you reduce costs, eliminate redundancies, and secure easy workflows for approval, production, and maintenance for any future additions to your program. The best environmental graphics firms can help you establish sign standards that ensure quality and efficiency throughout the life of the program.   

Choosing the Right Wayfinding Signage Design Firm

Best Practices for Wayfinding

Every wayfinding project comes with a unique set of challenges. Alongside the best practices of wayfinding signage, you need a system that:

With so many considerations—and stakeholders—involved in the process of redesigning commercial spaces, the right wayfinding design firm can be a critical partner. By partnering with an experienced wayfinding design company, you can implement a wayfinding program that improves the user experience in your facility and helps your organization achieve economies of scale over the long term.

GNU Group is an environmental graphics and communications design firm with over five decades of experience in creating wayfinding programs for complex environments. Our turnkey solutions can help you implement a powerful wayfinding program that meets all the wayfinding signage best practices. Connect with our team to get started.