directional signage design

Why Your Directional Signage Design Needs to Be More Than Just Functional

Published on: July 9, 2019

Wayfinding is often seen as a hard science. Signage consultants use observational data and proven principles to drive pedestrian traffic in the most efficient and effective manner possible. We get people where they need to go. Period.  

Functionality is the foundation of every great directional signage design. But the best wayfinding programs go above and beyond to serve more purposes beyond functionality. Branding is one such purpose. With environmental signage and graphics, you have the opportunity to create a truly immersive brand experience within your built environment and make every single touchpoint with your customers a positive experience. 

When you combine the science of wayfinding with the artistry of brand development, signage becomes a far more interesting investment. Why would you purchase an off-the-shelf signage solution when you could create a directional signage program that’s also a valuable extension of your brand?  

How to Combine Branding With Directional Signage Design 

It’s easy to discount directional signs as relatively simple creations. They convey the minimal amount of information necessary to get visitors quickly to their destinations. Given these limits, branding elements often need to be small in size but powerful in effect. Branding is what turns a basic directional sign into an immersive experience.    

Start by including some representation of your brand on each and every directional sign. In its most basic form, this could look like a “header” or “footer” that includes your full company name. Alternatively, you could use a visual logo to serve the same purpose. John Muir Health used this strategy to great effect across their multiple offices and satellite campuses, and was easily able to secure city approval for their branded outdoor signage program. 

Aside from a company name or a logo, you have the opportunity to express your brand identity through the shape, color, design, and material of each of the signs in your wayfinding program. These choices may seem small, but these are the details that can either reflect your brand or detract from it. Making intentional selections can help reinforce the brand experience for your visitors and help bring your brand to life in your built environment.  

3 Outstanding Examples of Branded Directional Signage

Some directional signage designs create the perfect combination of functionality and artistry. If you’re looking for inspiration for your own directional signage project, consider the signage programs at the following locations: 

Grafton Station

Grafton Station is the perfect example of how to incorporate a strong visual brand into directional signage and create a cohesive brand experience. This impressive retail complex in Dublin, CA projects a sophisticated graphic identity, primarily through wayfinding signage. Every single one of Grafton Station’s many signs incorporates their iconic logo in ways that are highly visible and aesthetically pleasing. Visitors are inspired to shop here again and again, choosing this beautifully designed location over other shopping destinations in the area. 

Stanford Children’s Health 

When Stanford Children’s Health acquired multiple physicians’ practices, they chose to rebrand with a wayfinding program designed to tie all of their 120+ medical offices together. This signage program introduced their new brand with bold signage and logo placement that built upon the brand equity already present in each of the existing clinics. Stanford Children’s Health projects a feeling of confidence with their directional signage design, providing visitors with an exciting departure from the standard health facility experience and encouraging them to choose Stanford clinics for their family care.

Downtown Davis

directional signage design for Downtown Davis

When the City of Davis invested in a new wayfinding program for the combined downtown and campus area, they chose to incorporate an eye-catching new graphic identity. The bold blue-and-yellow color scheme and graphic bicycle wheel logo are present on all of the directional signs in this extensive urban wayfinding program. These signage elements successfully fulfill the function of efficiently directing traffic, while branding the downtown area with a sense of active vitality. 

Combining the Art and Science of Wayfinding

Any capable signage firm can produce a program that follows wayfinding best practices and fulfills the primary function of getting visitors where they need to go. But the best directional signage design firms can combine the science of wayfinding with the art of visual branding and turn the small surface of a directional sign into a masterpiece. With their help, you’ll be able to create environmental graphics that inspire and delight visitors to your property.

When it comes time to select a bid on your new directional signage design, be sure to invest in a program that can leverage both sides of the wayfinding coin. Ask your potential partners how they plan to incorporate your unique graphic identity into their work—or if they’re able to help you refresh your existing brand to create even more visual impact. Look for a company that can make art out of wayfinding signs. Your visitors, employees, and customers will be sure to notice the difference. 


At GNU Group, we believe in the power of visual branding to transform the built environment. We’re proud to create directional signage designs that are both functional and beautiful—and we’re often asked to assist in refreshing or developing visual identities from scratch for commercial developments in California and across the United States. Curious to see how we might combine function and form for your wayfinding project? Connect with our team today.