What is Wayfinding?

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I did not always know what wayfinding means. But ever since I left Bulgaria to come to America I have been looking to find my way.

The first time I heard the term “wayfinding” was when I started working in the fusion of the physical and digital experience. The best definition of wayfinding comes from Hunt Design – “the act of self-guiding. Wayfinding is gaining an understanding of where you are relative to other things in your environment and then moving successfully and intentionally to another location.”

Wayfinding and Customer Experience Design

Wayfinding is an essential of customer experience design. In customer experience design in physical spaces, wayfinding is especially important. Let’s take an airport lobby. The moment the already flustered traveler walks in, he/she is intuitively looking where to go.

The first question he/she asks: “where is the check-in for my flight today?” The design of the signs that inform the passenger what the next step is, is wayfinding. This can be done in several ways, from a big information sign hanging from the ceiling, to a digital display with rotational information. A third option is to include images (arrows and short text) on the ground.

The American Museum of Natural History chose this option for wayfinding. Last, but not least, the app of your preferred carrier can pick up that you are in the airport and send you real-time notification to guide you where to go next. Done well, wayfinding guides you to your next step. It shows you where to go WITHOUT having to talk to a HUMAN.

Wayfinding Gets You Moving

Also when done well, wayfinding gets you where you want to go ON TIME. In the airport world, signs display how FAR the gate is from where you are. This can be the difference between making a flight – and making it home – or remaining stuck in transit at the airport.

In a movie theater, it means the difference between making it to the movie on time or missing it completely.

So What is Wayfinding?

Depending on the business, wayfinding can take the form of an app, a store robot, or a series of signs that make your journey more seamless. The common denominator among all these tools is the genuine passion to help people get to their ultimate destination.

Not surprisingly, the way to do this is to achieve this is driven by empathy. First, you need to imagine the need from your customer’s perspective. Then, you need to imagine the context of a stressful day. Don’t design wayfinding experiences for the day there is no pressure and no crowds. If you imagine one of your customers in a crowded airport, you will, rightly, rethink the size of the signs you are designing and make them bigger. Or you might revise the sassy branded language in favor of better, practical language that just says what your customer needs to hear. For example, “Check-in” instead of “Step 1.”

Wayfinding Includes Getting Through, and Getting Out

Wayfinding is also how you find where you need to go at a conference. Especially if that conference is in a big venue, it is worth actually walking in the shoes of the delegates to ensure it is easy to find and access session rooms. Another thing to keep in mind is exit signs. Unless you are managing a casino, exiting a space should be an easy, intuitive path. At a conference in New York this week, there was no exit sign. Do not forget about your customer’s exit journey. Remember, first and last impression matter in human experiences.

If you are still not sure about what wayfinding is, or if you are now ready to design a customer-centric journey for your guests, reach out. We are here to help.

After 17 years in New York, I can find my way pretty much anywhere. Above and below ground on the subway. Not sure that is the case for the millions visitors on NYC 😉

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