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The Importance of Wayfinding – Part 1

When you travel to a new city, how do you find your way around? Do you look for signage, a maybe a directory or a map?

The Important of Wayfinding - Part 1 - Actually Blog Article Image
When you travel to a new city, how do you find your way around? Do you look for signage, a maybe a directory or a map? We use wayfinding everyday of lives, but we are unaware of how important it really is, until we rely on the infrastructure that has been put in place to guide us. Through our travels we often depend on wayfinding to get us from Point A to Point B successfully, without frustration, anxiety or disorientation.

Here’s how the Registered Graphic Designers of Ontario describes the process of wayfinding, “The wayfinding process involves a series of decisions by which people moving through an environment can reach their desired destination. Those decisions are guided by architecture features and space planning elements, as well as by recognizable landmarks. They’re also supported by signage and other graphic communications and, increasingly, by audible and tactile innovations that assist people with special needs” as described by The Access Ability: A Practical Handbook on Accessible Graphic Design.

Wayfinding Systems

If you’re still thinking to yourself what’s wayfinding? No worries! Here’s a simplified definition: it’s signage that guides traffic through a facility, building, store, or city. You’ll find wayfinding anywhere and everywhere. Here’s some examples you’ll recognize – road signs, airports, map signage in shopping centers and subway stations, even braille on elevator and handicap signage.

Wayfinding uses symbols and text to clearly illustrate and explain a path to find your way to your destination. Symbols are mind blowing, ‘cause they’re simplified messages powerful images, without the use of words, which often time speak universally. Plus, the text used in wayfinding is clear, clean and legible.

Wayfinding Case Study – TTC

Recently, I travelled  to Toronto with a friend to meet other friends for dinner. We parked at Yorkdale mall and hopped on the subway to go deeper into the city. We met our friends, ate great food, and used the TTC to get around the city. As we were heading home, I recalled all my steps and how wayfinding took us from one place to the next, and in turn, I confirmed how important wayfinding was that evening. From using the subway, to a streetcar, to public restrooms, we had to use wayfinding to guide us through the city.

When we were in Toronto, I used the washroom at the subway station. I knew exactly where to go because of wayfinding. And here’s an excellent demonstration of how wayfinding can guide you through an unfamiliar city successfully. We don’t recognize the importance of wayfinding until we are in a new destination and unsure where to-go next, especially when you’re in need of a restroom, badly.

Why Wayfinding Is So Darn Important

As I said earlier, effective wayfinding is important for people to make their way through public buildings and other designed spaces, because it improves efficiency, accessibility, and safety. Plus keeps you sane by decreasing frustration, stress, anxiety, late arrivals and time spent giving or looking for directions.

When you have a great experience in an unfamiliar place, chances are you were able to navigate your visit easily without much frustration. When you enjoy experience you will find yourself wanting to frequent that destination more often, and venture out into new cities or places.

Today I’ve talked about what wayfinding is, why it’s important to us and explained types of systems that help us understand the importance of wayfinding. Check back next Thursday when I’ll discuss in Part II, spatial wayfinding, liner wayfinding, signage design and discuss the type of signs in depth.

Do you have any tips, suggestions or questions about the importance of wayfinding? We’d love to hear them! Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

Before you go, here’s some wayfinding resources to check out:


AIGA developed 50 symbols that are available on the web, free of charge. Signs are available in EPS and GIF formats here.

Tips for Innovative Meetings and Events (T.I.M.E.)

Making My Way – Wayfinding
Written and Published by Sue Tinnish

Arrows & Icons Magazine

What Makes A Good Wayfinding System?


Follow @Wayfinding for useful news/topics for environmental graphic designers, wayfinding planners/designers and architects.

  1. Another great wayfinding resource is the Society of Experiential Graphic Design.


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