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  • Ren Gudino

4 Elements to Consider for Effective Internal Wayfinding Signage

Updated: Sep 1, 2022

Imagine walking into a hospital for an appointment and not knowing where to go. You’ve already driven thirty minutes, tracked down the appropriate parking lot, found a spot, and carefully kept track of your parking ticket–reminding yourself to get it validated so that you don’t end up paying for parking–trekked across the parking lot and into an elevator before you even reached the inside of a building. When in the elevator, you hope to end up on a floor where you can at least speak to a human person that can tell you where cardiology is located. You were originally there for a dermatologist but after all of this running around, you should get an EKG instead.

Here are 4 ways a building can improve internal signage and create a smoother wayfinding experience–part 1 of a series:

1. Legibility - don’t clutter text or signage. Before digging into the artistic details, it’s important to make sure your message is clearly stated, first. Think about the words you want to say: are you using too many words? Is the size of the text large enough to be read by anyone? Does the font convey the mood of your message and is also easy to read? When you add too many words on a single sign, making the font smaller just so you can fit your wordy thought in, you’ve lost clarity in your message. My advice: be concise. However, sometimes people try to solve this issue by splitting up the message onto multiple signs–this only leads to cluttered signage. Adding more signs to avoid concision and clarity only leads to visual clutter, confusion, and redundancy. Multiple signs are confusing and they’re difficult to read. Too many words to make a point only make the point more convoluted. (Do you see what we did there?)

2. Consistency - don’t mix things up. Iconography and imagery are there for a reason. Using imagery in your signage is inclusive, sends a message without needing any text, and often, does so faster and more effectively than text alone. After all, if most people thoroughly read signage, then maybe we wouldn’t have so many movies made out of books, right? However, even icons can muddy up your message if you aren’t consistent. Keep informational signage designed in a consistent format–this way people associate an icon and/or the shape of the text with “information.” Regulatory signs are also done this way. When you see a red circle with a line through it, you know that that means not to do something. If people are shown the red circle with a line to forbid entering through one door, what will happen when the next door has a yellow sign with black lettering, also stating, “Do not enter.” Chances are, your brain will see the colors and design of the sign, assume it says something about caution, as you push through the doors into a live surgery.

3. ADA compliance - While a part of this means specifications for how braille is placed onto permanent room signage, ADA compliance covers reflectivity, color contrast, font sizes, icon sizes, placement of internal signage–all those good things that make sure signage is accessible for the public and employees. Since these can vary based on individual state requirements and locations, ADA Compliance can be a whole topic on its own. So, we’ll save that for another time–but definitely worth mentioning to make sure your signage follows the regulations within the Americans with Disabilities Act.

4. Maintenance - Diligent and consistent upkeep and maintenance is something that tends to be overlooked but is so important that we’ve included it here as number four in the first part of this series. Sun exposure, weathering, differences in temperature, and sometimes even the hands of real live human people can wear away the legibility of a sign. This is an issue most seen in high schools across the nation: students picking or scratching letters off of a sign to alter its meaning, trying to change Mr. Berger to “Burger.” Not every nameplate needs to be replaced as soon as something happens to it, but consistent replacing of damaged outdoor signage, faded directional and informational signage–both indoors and outdoors, and missing indoor room-identifying signs should be a priority. Picking high-quality materials from the get-go limits when these replacements will happen. Scheduling and planning your replacements and maintenance will give you an allocated budget for wayfinding signage, meaning you won’t be able to make any excuses and you can say that you prioritize the accessibility and safety of your building and its surrounding environment.

If only these four factors are considered when planning a building’s wayfinding signage, you will have clear, concise, legible, and accessible signage. For most people, that’s all anyone ever really wants: signage that tells them clearly where they are and where to go.

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