Universal Design New York
4.1c Wayfinding

Photo of a man using a freestanding information directory
Photo of a crosswalk at a very busy intersection
Photo of a mother and daughter pushing a stroller down an ashphalt walkway

Wayfinding is the organization and communication of our dynamic relationship to space and the environment. Successful design to promote wayfinding allows people to: (1) determine their location within a setting, (2) determine their destination, and (3) develop a plan that will take them from their location to their destination. The design of wayfinding systems should include: (1) identifying and marking spaces, (2) grouping spaces, and (3) linking and organizing spaces through both architectural and graphic means.

Architectural Wayfinding

There are five primary architectural wayfinding elements: (1) paths/circulation, (2) markers, (3) nodes, (4) edges, and (5) zones/districts. These, along with visual accessibility, are the design criteria for highly legible and comprehensible urban environments.

Architectural wayfinding systems use the design and organization of landscaping, urban amenities, and buildings as spatial indicators.

Paths/Circulation

The circulation system is the key organizing element of a site or building. People use circulation systems to develop a mental map.

Guidelines:

 
Photo of a building with a glass atrium. Balconies and stairways are cantilevered into the atrium
Figure 4.1c.1. This interior courtyard reveals the interior circulation of the building on every floor. Passageways, stairs, ramps, and elevators are identifiable from multiple vantage points allowing people to understand where they are going and how to get there.
Icon: Simple and Intuitive
Icon: Perceptible Information

Develop a focal point and a system of circulation paths to help people understand where they are in the system.

 

 

 

 

Photo of a circular stair case with the elevator running through the space in the center.
Figure 4.1c.2. The close proximity of the stairs, elevator and entrance provides visitors with self-evident choices for vertical movement.


Photo of a modern steel scultpture placed adjacent to an entry
Figure 4.1c.3.
This metal sculpture not only adds visual interest but also is an obvious marker to the entrance.

 

Icon: Perceptible Information
Icon: Tolerance for Error

Distinguish paths with width/height, material, and color differences to assist in the comprehension of the circulation system. If color is used to determine circulation, avoid using the same set of colors for other purposes such as decoration.

 

  Icon: Simple and Intuitive

Use a system that has a repetition or rhythm to help people to determine intuitively where they are going and be able to anticipate destinations.

 

  Icon: Perceptible Information

Use circulation systems that lead people from node to node.

 

  Icon: Perceptible Information

Clearly distinguish places where the public is welcome and where access is restricted.

 

  Icon: Perceptible Information

Communicate the circulation system to the users when they enter. In particular, vertical circulation devices such as stairs and elevators should be intuitive and perceptible.

 

Icon: Simple and Intuitive
Icon: Perceptible Information

In multi-story buildings, organize elements such as restrooms, elevators, and exits in the same location on each floor.

 

Icon: Simple and Intuitive
Icon: Perceptible Information

Remember that people often do not comprehend the overall plan of circulation paths. Whenever possible, design layouts that enable people to identify where they are going well before they arrive.

 

Markers

In wayfinding, a marker is an object that marks a locality. Markers such as arches, monuments, building entrances, kiosks, banners, artwork and natural features give strong identities to various parts of a site or building. They act as mental landmarks in the wayfinding process and break a complex task into manageable parts.

Guidelines:

 
Icon: Perceptible Information
Icon: Size and Space for Approach and Use

If possible, set up markers at focal points and at places that correspond to intersections.

 

 

A large building with overhangs to cover the sidewalks in front
Figure 4.1c.4. The awnings mark the entrance and protect patrons from rain, snow, and glaring sun.


Photo of a transportation map
Figure 4.1c.5. Subway maps such as this eliminate unnecessary information and present travelers with only the essential information needed to navigation the system.

 

Icon: Perceptible Information
Icon: Size and Space for Approach and Use

Consider locating the marker so that it is detectable from as many positions as possible. However, do not position the marker so that it physically interrupts the path of travel. In interiors, consider hanging markers from the ceiling.

 

  Icon: Perceptible Information

Add cues such as recesses, overhangs, and/or landscaping to mark entrances.

 

  Icon: Perceptible Information

When designing building exit markers, equate light cues with exit conditions.

 

Icon: Perceptible Information
Icon: Tolerance for Error

Locate emergency exits in places that people pass on a daily basis.

 

  Icon: Equitable Use

Whenever possible, set up primary markers to incorporate tactile, sound, and visual indicators.

 

  Icon: Perceptible Information

Develop marker systems to make different parts of the site or building as noticeable and memorable as possible. Locate and design windows to enable detection of markers from inside.

 

  Icon: Tolerance for Error

Consider the information desk or kiosk to be a key wayfinding marker.

 

Nodes

A node is a point at which subsidiary parts originate. People make decision points at nodes in paths. As a result, nodes should contain graphic and architectural information to assist with those decisions.

Guidelines:

 
  Icon: Simple and Intuitive

Think of wayfinding as a "connect-the-dots" activity and use only the information that is necessary at each node. Cluttering intersection points with too much information can confuse the user.

 

 
Tactile and high contrast flooring which reads "Step aside."
Figure 4.1c.6. The colored and textured floor strip helps everyone notice the edge of this train platform.
  Icon: Simple and Intuitive

Consider easy-to-understand node systems such as grids to help people establish a mental map of the wayfinding system.

 

  Icon: Simple and Intuitive

Use maps and graphic information to communicate the form of circulation only at primary rather than secondary nodes.

 

  Icon: Equitable Use

Whenever possible, use visual, tactile, and auditory indicators at major decision-making points.

 

Edges

Wayfinding edges determine where an area begins or ends.

Guidelines:

 
Icon: Perceptible Information
Icon: Tolerance for Error

Design specific boundary areas, such as pathways and subway platform edges, for both visual and tactile detection.

 

 
Photo of a floor which has different color floor tile along the edges and in diamond shapes down the center
Figure 4.1c.7. To assist the wayfinding needs of those with low vision, contrasting strips were placed along the edges of the hallway and dark brown diamond shapes were imbedded in the center of the path of travel.
Icon: Equitable Use
Icon: Tolerance for Error

Introduce contrasting building floor textures and hardness to establish wayfinding edge conditions and to alert users to changes in height conditions.

 

  Icon: Perceptible Information

Mark the tops and bottoms of ramps and stairs to emphasize transition points.

 

  Icon: Perceptible Information

Use tactile marking systems on handrails to inform people of changes in conditions - particularly potentially hazardous conditions (e.g., top step of stairs).

 

Zones/Districts

Wayfinding zones and districts are regions (either outside or within buildings) with a distinguishing character that assists in the general identification of place.

Guidelines:

 
Diagram of how to space text.
Figure 4.1c.8. This text diagram shows line spacing that will maximize legibility.
  Icon: Simple and Intuitive

Identify each zone to be unique and memorable in its context.

 

  Icon: Tolerance for Error

If possible, reinforce the identifying characteristics of the zone with signage prior to arrival in the zone.

 

  Icon: Simple and Intuitive

Identify zones in buildings with a letter prefix such as "A" or with the cardinal points of the compass (e.g., N-101 for North wing, room 101).

 

Graphic Wayfinding

There are four main categories of graphic wayfinding elements: (1) orientation, (2) directional information, (3) destination identification, and (4) situation and object identification.

Graphic information is the most direct way for people to find their location. Typical graphic wayfinding information includes systems made up of text, pictograms, maps, photographs, models, and diagrams. Visitors are required to observe, read, learn and comprehend these systems as they make their way through a site or building.

Guidelines:

 
Icon: Simple and Intuitive
Icon: Low Physical Effort

Be consistent with text and graphic devices and the location of signage throughout the system.

 

 

Photo of high contrast signage in an airport. The sign is suspended overhead
Figure 4.1c.9. The pictograms in this directional signage reinforce the text message.

 



Photo of a wall with transportation maps on it. In the middle is a pole which is brightly colored and contains an information phone.
Figure 4.1c.10. The brightly colored pole contains an information phone to supplement the maps. It also marks the location of this information display to make it easier to find.

 


Photo of a tactile map mounted on an angle
Figure 4.1c.11. Building maps should be accessible to people of all statures. This tactile map is tilted to help both standing and seated users access the information.

 

Icon: Perceptible Information
Icon: Low Physical Effort

Use upper and lower case letters for highest legibility except in the case of single word signage.

 

Icon: Perceptible Information
Icon: Low Physical Effort

To increase legibility, avoid single line spacing.

 

Icon: Perceptible Information
Icon: Low Physical Effort

For best legibility, the space between words in signage is typically the lower case "e" of the given font.

 

Icon: Perceptible Information
Icon: Low Physical Effort

Group information on complex signs to increase comprehension.

 

Icon: Perceptible Information
Icon: Low Physical Effort

Use flush left, ragged right to achieve ease of legibility.

 

  Icon: Simple and Intuitive

Display common rather than obscure or technical names (e.g., use Ear, Nose, and Throat rather than Otorhinolaryngology).

 

  Icon: Simple and Intuitive

Avoid abstract or difficult to learn pictograms.

 

  Icon: Tolerance for Error

Whenever possible, use pictograms and text together for reinforcement.

 

  Icon: Perceptible Information

In signage, use colors that are easily recognizable by name such as blue, orange, gray. Reserve the colors red, yellow, and green for public safety uses.

 

Icon: Perceptible Information
Icon: Low Physical Effort

Use color combinations that have at least a 70% brightness differential.

 

Icon: Perceptible Information
Icon: Low Physical Effort

Design lighting, windows and surfaces to prevent glare on signage.

 

  Icon: Perceptible Information

Place signs within the cone of vision to increase detection and legibility.

 

  Icon: Equitable Use

Repeat information displayed for longer distance detection in a format for close detection.

 

  Icon: Perceptible Information

Avoid blocking signage with building elements such as lights and air vents.

 

Orientation

Orientation devices such as maps, site plans, floor plans, building and floor directories are used to help people to develop a mental map of a large complex. This is typically the first level of graphic information given for decision-making in an unfamiliar setting. These devices should help people to determine where they are, where their destination is, and what the best route is to their destination.

Guidelines:

 
  Icon: Simple and Intuitive

Site and building plans should be oriented in the direction corresponding with the setting and orientation of the viewer.

 

 
Photo of two talking signs. One is a blue men's room sign and the other a stairway sign
Figure 4.1c.12. Talking signs are positioned at wayfinding decision-making points throughout this building. They communicate locations to users through hand-held receivers.

 

  Icon: Simple and Intuitive

Provide a "you are here" symbol to help in orientation.

 

Icon: Perceptible Information
Icon: Simple and Intuitive

Include key landmarks in the site or building plan.

 

Icon: Perceptible Information
Icon: Simple and Intuitive

Provide text labels on maps that correspond to directional and destination signage.

 

  Icon: Simple and Intuitive

Use familiar or easy-to-learn pictograms to reinforce text and to bypass language-based information.

 

  Icon: Equitable Use

Tilt maps and plans displayed for pedestrian use so that people of all statures and those who are seated can access them.

 

Icon: Tolerance for Error
Icon: Equitable Use

Place information desks near building maps and directories so that attendants can use them to explain directions to visitors.

 

Icon: Perceptible Information
Icon: Size and Space for Approach and Use

Place exterior map signage in locations that are legible from a parked vehicle. Require a pullover area out of the way of moving traffic to access the map.

 

  Icon: Equitable Use

Provide a talking sign system in complex buildings where providing assistance is neither desirable nor feasible.

 

Icon: Simple and Intuitive
Icon: Perceptible Information

For building directories, provide visitors with level and room numbers for all destinations, listed alphabetically.

 

Icon: Perceptible Information
Icon: Low Physical Effort

Avoid all upper case text in directories to increase legibility.

 

  Icon: Simple and Intuitive

On each level, provide a map of that level with room numbers and tenants identified. Orient the map with the floor plan and include key markers for the level.

 

Icon: Simple and Intuitive
Icon: Perceptible Information

Display hours of service in a prominent area near or on the building entrance as well as in the vestibule area.

 

Directional Information

This type of signage guides people along a route to a destination, and is given after they have had the chance to orient themselves to the general setting. Most often this includes signs with arrows and elevator button panels.

Guidelines:

 
  Icon: Perceptible Information

Keep the font size consistent. Use font weight to determine the importance of information.

 

 

Photo of a raised tactile map that only contains basic shapes and labeling
Figure 4.1c.13. Like subway maps, tactile maps abstract information to convey the major elements of the building, complex, or site.

 



Photo of elevator controls mounted at handrail height
Figure 4.1c.14.
People of all statures should be able to reach even the top elevator buttons. These buttons are large with destinations and functions clearly indicated in several forms including raised letters and Braille.

 

  Icon: Perceptible Information

Light letters on a dark background appear larger than dark letters on a light background and therefore are recommended for directional signage.

 

Icon: Perceptible Information
Icon: Simple and Intuitive

Maintain consistency of arrow styles and use throughout the system. Consider the plain language option of "straight ahead" instead of an arrow pointing up or down to avoid confusion with "upstairs" and "downstairs."

 

  Icon: Perceptible Information

Avoid more than five messages and five lines of text in a single directional sign.

 

  Icon: Simple and Intuitive

Use familiar or easy-to-learn pictograms to reinforce text and to bypass language-based information.

 

  Icon: Tolerance for Error

Emphasize information offered in directional signage with architectural indicators such as wall graphics or landscaping that lead to the destination.

 

Icon: Perceptible Information
Icon: Tolerance for Error

Supplement directional information with maps at key decision points to reduce the amount of directional signage.

 

  Icon: Tolerance for Error

Place signs in transitional areas to reassure people that they are on the correct route.

 

Icon: Equitable Use
Icon: Perceptible Information

Place call buttons at levels that can be reached by all people, seated or standing, and employ multi-sensory systems to indicate "up" and "down."

 

  Icon: Equitable Use

Position elevator panels so that all people can easily reach them.

 

  Icon: Perceptible Information

Include tactile and high contrast floor numbers.

 

  Icon: Perceptible Information

Display easy to understand identifiers next to control buttons on elevator panels. For example, place a star symbol next to the number "1."

 

Icon: Tolerance for Error
Icon: Perceptible Information

Clearly identify floor levels and their uses (e.g., entrances to the complex, offices, concourse, parking) in elevator lobbies and at the tops of ramps, stairs, and escalators.

 

  Icon: Equitable Use

Design all routes to destinations so they are usable by all people.

 

  Icon: Perceptible Information

In intersections, place signage to ensure that those coming from all directions can detect the information.

 

  Icon: Flexibility in Use

Use interactive multi-sensory systems at key decision-making points to provide more information and flexibility than is possible in a static signage system.

 

  Icon: Tolerance for Error

If there is more than one entrance to a building, provide directions to the information desk at all secondary entrances.

 

Destination Identification

This graphic information is provided at the point of destination. Typically it includes building signage, floor numbers, and room identifiers.

Guidelines:

 

Photo of a building that has several long banners with the name of the insititution on it.
Figure 4.1c.15. These banners are on the second and third stories perpendicular to the facade. They prominently display the building's identity even several blocks away.

Sign for a womens room. It has a pictorgram, braille, and large bold lettering.
Figure 4.1c.16. Restroom signage that contains text labels, pictograms, and Braille offers information to a broad population.

Icon: Perceptible Information
Icon: Size and Space for Approach and Use

Use outdoor signage to identify all buildings by name. Locate signs for legibility from both roadways and pathways.

 

  Icon: Simple and Intuitive

The numbering system used in buildings should be intuitive and simple. For example, in multi-story buildings, all room numbers should correspond to their floor number (e.g., B1 or -1 for the basement, 101, 102 for the first floor, 201, 202 for the second, etc.). Even numbered rooms should be on one side of double loaded corridors and odd numbered rooms should be on the other side. Avoid splitting even and odd numbers for different wings.

Icon: Perceptible Information
Icon: Tolerance for Error

Make floor numbers detectable at each entrance.

 

Icon: Perceptible Information
Icon: Tolerance for Error

Place room number signs beside doors so that they can be easily detected when the door is open.

 

  Icon: Equitable Use

Public amenities (e.g., restrooms) and restaurants should be identified with pictograms, text, and Braille.

 

Situation and Object Identification

This graphic information informs visitors about situations such as local hazards, changes of status (e.g., train schedules) and identifies objects such as fire extinguishers.

Guidelines:

 
Icon: Equitable Use
Icon: Tolerance for Error

Use a public address sound system with accompanying visual information on dynamic signs to inform people of specific information and emergency conditions.

 

 

Photo of an emergency phone which is bright red and uses two languages to identify its functions
Figure 4.1c.17. Large text, pictograms, lights, alarm identifiers and color coding are effective ways to help everyone find emergency devices and directions.

  Icon: Flexibility in Use

Use dynamic signage (e.g., an LED display) in situations when information continually changes.

 

Icon: Equitable Use
Icon: Perceptible Information

In emergency situations, use repetition of cues (e.g., connect audible alarms to visual signs).

 

Icon: Equitable Use
Icon: Perceptible Information

Use pictograms, text, and color-coding to label all emergency equipment.

 

Icon: Simple and Intuitive
Icon: Perceptible Information

Use standard signage shapes for specific purposes (e.g., circles for regulation, squares and rectangles for identification, and triangles for warning).

 

Icon: Simple and Intuitive
Icon: Perceptible Information

Use standard signage colors for specific purposes (e.g., yellow for warning signs, red for emergency signs or devices, and green for life protection equipment or facilities signs).

 

Icon: Equitable Use
Icon: Simple and Intuitive

All information desks and kiosks should be identified with signage.

 


The IDEA Center Logo. Click this link to go to the IDEA Center web site.
Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access
School of Architecture and Planning - University at Buffalo,
The State University of New York
Buffalo, NY 14214-3087
Tel 716/829-3485 ext 329 Fax 716/829-3861
TTY 800/628-2281