interior directional signage

Essential Interior Directional Signage Design Best Practices

Published on: November 14, 2019

Interior directional signage is often the last thing on a company’s ‘to-do’ list. Most companies provide plenty of time for architectural design, give a lot of thought to the interior finishes, and even prioritize landscape design—but they oftentimes forget about wayfinding signage until the very last minute. At that point, they’re stuck trying to find a vendor who can meet a tight deadline and they often have to work with a limited choice of prefabricated signage elements in the hopes of avoiding delayed occupancy. This chaos inevitably leads to lower-quality results and wasted funds.

When it comes to interior directional signage design, the first and most important best practice is to get involved early. You must allow time for your signage consultant to evaluate your needs, craft a design that communicates your visual brand, oversee the manufacturing of signage elements from appropriate materials, and implement a cohesive program. This process takes time. 

Including directional signage earlier in your timeline will ensure that you’re investing in the highest-quality interior signage program you can find with a vendor that’s a great fit to support your long-term growth. Plus, you’ll be able to prioritize firms that follow all of the essential best practices below.  

4 More Interior Signage Design Best Practices You Need To Know

When you’re not rushing to get a signage program installed in record time, you have the freedom to prioritize. You can consider bids more carefully. You can make educated budgeting decisions. And you can ensure that the company you partner with produces quality work according to the highest industry standards. Before signing on the dotted line, take the time to ensure that your interior directional signage program incorporates the following best practices: 

1. Strategizing for efficient wayfinding

Interior directional signage design isn’t just about purchasing identification plaques for your walls. The success of every program rests on the art and science of wayfinding design—or how the signs have been strategically designed for efficient and effective navigation of your property. You may have the most beautifully-designed signs on the market but if your program isn’t strategically put together according to wayfinding best practices, you’ll notice problems with navigation as soon as visitors and staff enter the building. Top-notch wayfinding planning and implementation are what sets exceptional signage programs apart. 

Lyft’s San Francisco headquarters is the perfect example of how important wayfinding design can be. Their offices occupy over three full floors and more than 80,000 square feet, with multiple entrances via elevator and stairs, making it difficult for visitors to orient themselves and find their destinations. Lyft invested in a comprehensive wayfinding program that included orientation maps, flag signs, and innovative floor graphics. Together, these strategically-placed elements significantly reduced navigational confusion and helped Lyft better support their ever-growing workforce. 

interior directional signage for Lyft

2. Simplifying and universalizing

Within the context of a well-designed wayfinding strategy, your interior directional signs should be streamlined and simplified on an individual level as well. Simplifying the naming conventions of your property and reducing the number of words on each sign will significantly improve readability and make for smoother navigation. It’s also important to ensure that your signage consultant is designing with some degree of universality. Most businesses face a growing need to serve multicultural and multilingual audiences, and incorporating universal language and iconography with your signage program is a powerful wayfinding solution.

Ravenswood Family Health Center serves an incredibly diverse community in their hometown of East Palo Alto, CA. Among the high number of Limited English Proficiency patients this facility welcomes includes patients who speak more than six different languages and dialects. When Ravenswood invested in a wayfinding program for their new 70,000 square-foot facility, they replaced complex medical terms with universal iconography. Most signs were also designed to include multiple languages, which meant each needed to be further simplified to avoid visual clutter. The result is an interior directional signage design that makes everyone feel welcome, improves patient satisfaction, and furthers Ravenswood’s community outreach goals. 

3. Incorporating your visual branding

One of the major benefits of embarking on signage design early is that you have the opportunity to choose custom environmental branding elements over prefabricated or off-the-shelf options. Custom signs give you more freedom to incorporate elements of your visual brand and create an even more immersive experience for staff and visitors to your property. Signs as valuable brand touchpoints—and they should be designed as such. 

Visual branding is a priority in most industries. Yet, it tends to be particularly powerful in the corporate office setting, where branded interior directional signs can set your office apart from other companies and contribute to a cohesive internal branding strategy. Atlassian uses innovative interior design to enhance their “totally tricked out office” aesthetic, particularly in their Austin location where unique signage and graphics highlight the fun and creative atmosphere of Austin and Atlassian simultaneously. Similarly, Broadcom utilized large-scale supergraphics to add color to its San Jose office environment and convey their bold and innovative visual brand internally. When you can achieve results like these, why would you ever settle for an off-the-shelf signage program? 

4. Connecting to exterior and digital elements  

Finally, an interior directional signage design is most successful when it dovetails with all the other navigational tools in your toolbox. Your interior signage program will work best when it’s tied strategically with your external signs. You want visitors to your company to receive consistent messaging from the moment they arrive on your property to the moment they reach their final destinations inside. If your facility also uses digital navigation tools, like mobile apps or digital appointment reminders for healthcare environments, you’ll also want to connect those closely with your new interior directional signage program. 

Dignity Health Sequoia Hospital in Redwood City, CA recognized a need for improved connectivity when adding on a Cardiovascular Center. They invested in a wayfinding program that not only covered the new building but also extended outward in a “Sequoia Walk” trail, connecting the buildings in a circuitous pedestrian spine. The comprehensive signage program offers continuous guidance with simple alpha-numeric wayfinding language to help patients navigate the complex easily and enjoyably, both inside and out. Using the same language across every navigational touchpoint created a stronger wayfinding signage program for this facility and a better overall navigational experience for visitors. 

interior directional signage for hospitals

How to Get Interior Directional Signage That Meets All The Marks

If you’re ready to invest in a high-quality interior signage program that incorporates all of these best practices, your next step is to partner with a premier signage design firm. When you leave plenty of slack in your development timeline for signage design, you have the ability to more closely evaluate signage services and partner with the firm that’s the best fit for you. 

The best firm will also take time to do a thorough site audit and evaluate the needs of your staff and community before starting in on the project. At GNU Group, we use our proprietary Sign Profile Analysis™ tool to identify signage opportunities and establish a clear and highly-accurate quote for the total cost of a signage program. This process ensures our clients won’t face any surprises throughout the design, manufacturing, and implementation process so they can budget appropriately from the very beginning. 

Finding the right signage consultant can be a challenge. But by leaving yourself plenty of time to evaluate potential partnerships and ask questions about their wayfinding best practices, you’ll be well on your way toward finding the perfect fit. 


GNU Group is an end-to-end wayfinding design firm with over 30 years’ experience in interior directional signage design. We’re passionate about creating innovative, impactful wayfinding programs that improve navigation immediately and retain their value over time. To take the first step toward finding a great firm for your next signage project, connect with our team today.