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Polynesian navigation device showing directions of winds, waves and islands, c. 1904

Wayfinding encompasses all of the ways in which people and animals orient themselves in physical space and navigate from place to place.

Basic Process[edit]

The basic process of wayfinding involves four stages:

  1. Orientation is the attempt to determine one's location, in relation to objects that may be nearby and the desired destination.
  2. Route Decision is the selection of a course of direction to the destination.
  3. Route Monitoring is checking to make sure that the selected route is heading towards to the destination.
  4. Destination Recognition is when the destination is recognized.[1]


Historically, wayfinding signage refers to the techniques used by travelers over land and sea to find relatively unmarked and often mislabeled routes. These include but are not limited to dead reckoning, map and compass, astronomical positioning and, more recently, global positioning.[citation needed] Wayfinding can also refer to the traditional navigation method used by indigenous peoples of Polynesia.[2]

The ancient Polynesians and Pacific Islanders mastered the way of wayfinding to explore and settle on the islands of the Pacific. With these skills, some of them were even able to navigate the ocean as well as they could navigate their own land. Despite the dangers of being out at sea for a long time, wayfinding was a way of life.[3]

Modern usage of the term[edit]

Recently, wayfinding has been used in the context of architecture to refer to the user experience of orientation and choosing a path within the built environment. Kevin A. Lynch used the term for his 1960 book The Image of the City, where he defined wayfinding as "a consistent use and organization of definite sensory cues from the external environment."

In 1984 environmental psychologist Romedi Passini published the full-length "Wayfinding in Architecture" and expanded the concept to include signage and other graphic communication, clues inherent in the building's spatial grammar, logical space planning, audible communication, tactile elements, and provisions for special-needs users.[citation needed]

The term wayfinding is also used to refer to the set of architectural or design elements that aid orientation. Today, the term wayshowing suggested by Per Mollerup [4] is used to cover the act of assisting wayfinding.

In 2010 AHA Press Published "WAYFINDING FOR HEALTHCARE Best Practices for Today's Facilities", written by Randy R. Cooper. The book takes a comprehensive view of Wayfinding specifically for those in search of medical care.[5]

In modern travel and tourism literature, wayfinding can refer to getting between two points in the easiest manner, or to navigating a location for pleasure ("recreational wayfinding").

The Hokuleʻa, a Polynesian double-hulled voyaging canoe, is being used for a project under the Polynesian Voyaging Society to revive ancient Hawaiian and Polynesian culture. In October 2014, the crew of the Hokuleʻa arrived on another island in Tonga. [6]

The crew of the Hokuleʻa are using the ancient ways of wayfinding to sail around the world. They use the stars, the wind, the clouds, and the currents of the ocean to navigate.[7] One of the crew members is Nainoa Thompson, the first Hawaiian to practice wayfinding since the 14th century. [8]

Wayfinding in architecture, signage and urban planning[edit]

Modern wayfinding has begun to incorporate research on why people get lost, how they react to signage and how these systems can be improved. Research and information on Wayfinding can be found at SEGD's Wayfinding information page [4]

Urban planning[edit]

An example of a comprehensive urban wayfinding scheme is the Pittsburgh Wayfinder System.

Nashville, Tennessee has introduced a live music wayfinding plan. Posted outside each live music venue is a guitar pick reading Live Music Venue. [9]

Indoor wayfinding[edit]

Indoor wayfinding in public buildings such as hospitals is commonly aided by kiosks,[10] indoor maps, and building directories. Such spaces that involve areas outside the normal vocabulary of visitors show the need for a common set of language-independent symbols.[citation needed] Offering indoor maps for handheld mobile devices is becoming common, as are digital information kiosk systems. Other frequent wayfinding aids are the use of color coding[11] and signage clustering.[12]

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) represented a milestone in helping to make spaces universally accessible and improving wayfinding for users.[citation needed]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ Lidwell, William, Kritina Holden and Jill Butler. Universal Principles of Design. (Rockport Publishers, Beverly, MA, 2010) p. 260. Link at Google Books.
  2. ^ Polynesian Voyaging Society (2009)
  3. ^ Daniel Lin, “Hokuleʻa: The Art of Wayfinding (Interview with a Master Navigator),” National Geographic website, 3 March 2014, retrieved on 29 October 2014.
  4. ^ [1} Per Mollerup, Wayshowing, A Guide to Environmental Signage (Lars Muller Publisher
  5. ^ AHA Press, Health Forum Inc., An American Hospital Association Company - Chicago
  6. ^ "Hokuleʻa, Wayfinding, and Sustainability," Global Solutions Pittsburgh website, 27 October 2014, retrieved on 29 October 2014.
  7. ^ Ira Zunin, “Wayfinding is about more than navigating the ocean,” Star Advertiser website, 23 April 2011, retrieved on 29 October 2014.
  8. ^ "Nainoa Thompson- Biography," University of Hawaii- Institute for Astronomy website, 15 December 2001, retrieved on 5 November 2014.
  9. ^ [1]
  10. ^ Raven, A., Laberge, J., Ganton, J. & Johnson, M., Wayfinding in a Hospital: Electronic Kiosks Point the Way, UX Magazine 14.3, September 2014.
  11. ^ [2]
  12. ^ [3]