Have you heard about how Ikea purposefully sets up its store to be like a maze and how this is supposed to increase the probability of impulsive purchases? Or have you heard about grocery stores placing the bakery at the front of the store so that the smell of freshly baked goods might signal your brain to feel more hungry and, of course, lead you to spend more impulsively? Have you heard the bit about color triggering specific emotions in people: like red and yellow signal your brain to be hungry? Just think of all the fast food signs you see when driving on the interstate–what colors do they usually use?
Regarding interior wayfinding signage, we can use similar methods by coding by color and utilizing natural association to help others maneuver inside a building. Color psychology isn’t a precise or definite science. Some practices are questionable and haven’t been proven with a large enough demographic to know what is consistent. However, some studies have been thoroughly researched regarding color and its effects. For example, red consistently draws the eye: this is why stop, traffic, danger, and do not enter signage always uses red as a primary color. If we read “Danger” in white text on a green background, the human brain is more likely to overlook it and less likely to break a thought cycle to read it mindfully.
Like highway and interstate signage, we can use basic color associations to color code interior wayfinding signage. From color coding areas, paying attention to color contrast, designing for your audience, and breaking away from the norm by adding in a little bit of humor or flair with custom signage–here are four more elements to consider when designing your interior wayfinding signage.
Color-coding – Giving specific areas of your building a color helps newcomers know where and where NOT to go. Marking information desks with green signage, lobbies in purple, and bathrooms in blue (especially when paired with icons or imagery), means that a person can look on a map, know what colors to look for, and then continue to look for signs of that color to find their way. This is why red is saved for emergency and safety signage, like exit signs.
Color Contrast – If the colors of the sign are important, then the lettering matters as well. While trying out a brown or orange on blue or pink might be fun and playful for a personal nameplate, it might not be the best idea for the first-floor restrooms. Some places experiment with this, using a deep brown or a deep plum on green, light blue, or lavender, and this can work for a salon, masseuse, or spa. This is why considering your audience is the most aspect to consider. If you’re designing internal wayfinding signage for an elementary school, splitting the grades into bright primary and secondary colors isn’t out of place. However, if you’re planning the internal wayfinding signage for a retirement home, it’s crucial to know that we lose our ability to see nuances between colors as we age. For an audience of primarily older people, stark and bold contrast becomes more critical than branding or aesthetics.
Proper Grouping – If anything, I would maybe put this as 2.5 rather than give it a whole number to itself, but I’m doing so because if your grouping isn’t done accurately, then you can throw all the color-contrasting and color-coding out the window! It is equally important to make sure that you are categorizing the areas of your building in a way that makes sense. If someone is looking for the way to the parking lot–don’t make it the same color as your offices. Don’t make bathrooms the same color as “administration only”; otherwise, you might have someone with a weak bladder running into your accountant’s office or someone avoiding the bathrooms altogether, assuming they lead to slew a hallway of folks tiredly typing at their computers.
4. Personalization–Don’t be afraid to be different if the situation demands it! Welcome signage, company names, or main entrances are great spots to feature something different and eye-catching. Unconventional businesses, modern art museums, tech companies, and sometimes even the errant small business in the south add a little flair to their public areas. A small business can make its entryway feel unique and fun, utilizing its branding to be more memorable for its clients. A more significant business does this to assert its authority over its branding, laying claim to color combinations and fonts while setting the stage for the signage that might follow—utilizing its branding throughout, maintaining ADA standards, and still following the rules of color coding and contrast.