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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: Orientation, Route Decision, Route Monitoring, and Destination Recognition.

  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]

Experiential Graphic Design[edit]

In 1973 the then Society for Environmental Graphic Design (SEGD) [1] was formed because of the belief that signage was only a part of the larger value that designers were offering to improve a users experience of place. Over the past 40 years the practices of Wayfinding,[2] Placemaking and Identity,[3] Exhibition Design[4] and the design of Urban and Public spaces[5] have all developed into specializations within Experiential Graphic Design. Each of these practice areas for designers contain wayfinding as a critical element of improving the experience of users by helping to connect them with the spaces they are using. XGD designers work with signage, technology, architects and urban planners to effectively help people navigate through the built environment. Wayfinding is inherently a collaborative effort by many stakeholders to make the built environment a pleasurable experience.

As the field has developed, it has become more sophisticated with user research playing a greater part in helping to understand why people get lost, how they react to signage and wayfinding and how these systems can be improved. Hospitals and other spaces that involve many specialist areas that are not in the normal vocabulary of visitors, such as Oncology, Radiography and various other specialisms within the medical profession pose particular challenges to wayfinding experts especially when it comes to the design of symbols and icons. Research studies such as the Hablamos Juntos study have been undertaken to create a common set of symbols for healthcare that are language independent. There are also symbol sets for use in wayfinding for transportation, recreation and accessibility available from SEGD. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) represented a milestone in helping to make spaces accessible for all. There are a number of good books on the topic of Wayfinding by David Gibson; The Wayfinding Handbook: Information Design for Public Places [2], Wayne Hunt; Environmental Graphics: Projects and Process [3] and Chris Calori; Signage and Wayfinding Design: A Complete Guide to Creating Environmental Graphic Design Systems [4], all experts in the field of Wayfinding.


Wayfinding is the traditional navigation methods used by indigenous peoples of Polynesia.[6]

Urban planning[edit]

In the 1960s, the American urban planner and theorist Kevin A. Lynch introduced the term wayfinding as it is now commonly used.

In more modern times, 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, and it also refers to the set of architectural and/or design elements that aid orientation. The 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”. One comprehensive example is the Pittsburgh Wayfinder System.

In 1984 environmental psychologist Romedi Passini published the full-length "Wayfinding in Architecture"[citation needed] 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 provision for special-needs users.

Architectural (indoor) wayfinding[edit]

Indoor wayfinding in modern large public buildings such as hospitals is commonly noted as indoor navigation with indoor maps or building directory. Increasingly common is offering visitors indoor maps for handheld mobile devices and also information kiosk systems. Commercial providers of this type of indoor navigation service include i.e. Google and infsoft

This term is also used in reference to parking management strategies that help drivers find parking garages.

Wayfinding in Tourism Studies[edit]

The term Wayfinding is now used widely in Travel and Tourism literature. Wayfinding is considered by many to be a process of getting between two points in the easiest manner, but wayfinding can also refer for example to 'Recreational wayfinding' which involves navigating a location for pleasure. Many subjects including colour coding and the concept of clustering [7] impact on this subject area.

See also[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. ^ http://segd.org/wayfinding
  3. ^ http://segd.org/placemaking-and-identity
  4. ^ http://segd.org/exhibition
  5. ^ http://segd.org/public-installation
  6. ^ Polynesian Voyaging Society (2009)
  7. ^ Clustering in wayfinding