It may be partly due to a misunderstanding of the difference between wayfinding and signage; the confusion stems from the fact that both involve helping people to navigate.
But wayfinding is much more than just the provision of signage: it is about engineering a public space to make it more efficient, enhancing the users’ experience through design, public art; even street furniture.
Signage has often been viewed as a last minute service that only needs to be sought out at the end of a project. However many architects today are seeing the value of involving wayfinding consultants at an early stage.
I see wayfinding consulting as a multi-disciplinary field, one that requires input from a broad range of experts: architects, engineers, and industrial and information designers.
The discipline digs deep into the mindset of all users and the routes they will take, whether arriving on foot or by car, by taxi or metro, with the aim being to increase users’ economic activity for clients.
Much research must go into understanding the proposed built and natural environment, the project’s brand and communication goals, and the engineering and prototyping of products that will be robust, durable and sustainable.
The goal in wayfinding must be to engage users, encourage them to explore the spaces between the architecture and to create positive experiences. A user who can navigate easily, find parking, or return to their car without the frustration of feeling lost is more likely to return and tell others of their enjoyable experience. The experience needs to be considered before construction starts as the addition of more signs at a later date simply adds to the confusion.
When seeking a consultant, clients would be wise to assess the background of the team and compare the deliverables. It’s common for consultants – or rather sign designers – to deliver basic drawings and then rely on sign fabricators to provide the remaining specifications.
A wayfinding consultant should provide clients with a great amount of detail with all methods and materials specified. Each and every sign and its location must be considered and planned, along with power and infrastructure requirements.
Not just wayfinding or directional signage, but also regulatory, traffic signage, and parking systems must be considered for complete integration. This ensures accurate pricing by bidders during tendering, which allows for fair comparisons and provides a means of quality control during construction.
Increasingly, architectural firms in the region are inviting us to join projects right from day one in their conceptual work. In this way, a wayfinding consultant can actually provide planning by assessing the paths of the users and finding opportunities to integrate design and improve user experiences. In short providing wayfinding, not just signage design.
Although we are still behind the United States and Europe, this is definitely a positive trend: one that can only benefit both owners and end users.
Jason Lewis is the founder and managing partner of Dubai-based Limah Design Consultants.