A picture's worth 1K words in digital signage wayfinding

Aug. 25, 2015

By Tom Graczkowski, Creative Director, Saturn Digital Media

The old saying about a picture being worth a thousand words rings especially true when it comes to producing effective wayfinding.

From a very young age, we learn to identify colorful shapes and symbols for things such as bathrooms and safety signs. It's an approach that's essential to good wayfinding work. But many public facilities — such as hotels, hospitals and museums — have little or sometimes no wayfinding.

Wayfinding is the planning part of navigation that allows us to find our way around an environment or space and efficiently reach a destination. It requires us to form a mental layout of the space — a cognitive map that solves location-based problems.

The information stored externally on information displays, such as maps, plays a critical role in wayfinding. That information lets us make definitive decisions, such as orienting in a new environment, choosing an optimal route, creating shortcuts and planning trips and trip sequences.

A good wayfinding design should make the person aware of his or her location, and how it relates to the destination. It should also provide the traveler with visual cues — such as colors, noticeable features and clearly marked pathways — so that he or she can reach the destination successfully.

The use of recognizable symbols is very helpful when communicating with travellers who do not read, speak another language, have vision difficulties or just feel too embarrassed to ask for assistance.

Effective wayfinding requires information that is accurate, precise and up to date — yet simple enough so that it does not become confusing. By providing sufficient amounts of clear information, harried travelers are calmed, and they get to where they need to be easily.

That matters.

Studies have shown that disorientation can cause stress, resulting in feelings of helplessness, headaches, raised blood pressure and fatigue. When those feelings are prolonged, they may even be life threatening to the traveler.

Bad wayfinding creates bad experiences, and even serious safety risks when there are emergencies and alarmed people don't know what to do to where to go.

Good wayfinding promotes the facility, and communicates to visitors that the facility is capable, organized and professional. Not to mention, that by reducing stress and frustration associated with wayfinding, visitors will be more open and trusting toward staff.

When we designed a digital wayfinding solution for a hotel and conference center in London, Ontario, the objective was a visually driven system that helped visitors easily find their way around the property.

There's lots of research out there on how humans are capable of committing huge amounts of information to our memory by forming and associating mental images. So we designed a system that takes advantage of our brain's preference to images, by automatically displaying unique and colored shape pairs to identify each event, and point to its respective location on digital maps.

We put in 46-inch reader boards at three key Lamplighter entrances. By associating markers with meeting rooms, this makes it a lot easier and quicker for visitors to find their meeting rooms, and especially if the markers are repeated en route to or by the meeting room doors.

At the end of the day, it's about being helpful and making sure that the visitors' experience as they navigate inside the facility is a good one and stress free. With the reader boards in place, visitors can now reach their destination with efficiency and staff productivity is increased when they don't have to frequently assist lost visitors. According to Lamplighter management, "The project looks better than I [could] have imagined and provides our guests with a unique and informative experience."

Graczkowski is the creative director at Saturn Digital Media, a Canadian company whose team of experts strive to provide practical digital signage solutions and media production services designed to engage the audience. Saturn covers a market that includes hospitality, health, education and corporate facilities, as well as small businesses and more.


Topics: Customer Experience, Wayfinding


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