By Mies Hora
Wayfinding, or spatial orientation, is an essential aspect of everyday life: knowing where one is, knowing the destination, following the best route, recognizing the destination, and finding the way back. Humanity’s ability to survive and thrive has always depended to some degree upon a sense of direction, not becoming disoriented or losing one’s way. Relying on visual cues in our physical environment to find our way becomes most important when we encounter demanding, unfamiliar environments and circumstances.
Whether navigating the Internet, the Puget Sound, the inputs and outputs of a surround-sound audio visual system, the operation of a new miter saw, the hallways of a large hospital, a forest trail in grizzly country, a Hong Kong street, a trip through a suburban mall, a mountain pass in Afghanistan, or just finding a restroom during a visit to Disney World, wayfinding “devices” often play an integral role in the success or failure of an endeavor. Even the simplest of settings can involve a jumble of information that must be sorted and processed before it becomes meaningful. Coined in 1960 by architect Kevin Lynch in The Image of the City, the term “way-finding” was further described by Romedi Passini and Paul Arthur in their books Wayfinding in Architecture and Wayfinding, People, Signs and Architecture. They articulated way-finding as a two-stage process during which people must solve a wide variety of problems that involve both “decision making” (formulating an action plan) and “decision executing” (implementing the plan).
There is little question that the positive or negative consequences of people navigating unfamiliar and increasingly complex environments – and whether users perceive a wayfinding system as easy to use or not – is directly related to the quality, consistency, thoughtfulness, and placement of wayfinding devices, directional and informational signs, maps, diagrams, street numbers, labels, colors, typography, icons, and symbol sets. The expanding interactivity of global economies makes requisite ever more refined and sophisticated non-verbal communication systems. People’s lives can depend on it!