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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 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]

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. It can also refer to the set of architectural or design elements that aid orientation, as well as in reference to parking management strategies that help drivers find parking garages. Urban planner Kevin A. Lynch borrowed 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]

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").

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.

Urban planning[edit]

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

Indoor wayfinding[edit]

Indoor wayfinding in public buildings such as hospitals is commonly aided by kiosks,[3] 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[4] and signage clustering.[5]

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. ^ Raven, A., Laberge, J., Ganton, J. & Johnson, M., Wayfinding in a Hospital: Electronic Kiosks Point the Way, UX Magazine 14.3, September 2014.
  4. ^ [1]
  5. ^ [2]