Wayfinding helps people navigate through a series of structured decisions that lead to their destination. To shape this, we delve into the thought process of the customer or visitor to 'find their way.'
Wayfinding doesn't just happen inside a building; it often covers the entire site. It only works when consciously designed for users and tailored to the site. This way, you can optimize your space and showcase your museum pieces, store collection, etc., to their full potential. With wayfinding, you provide your visitor with a relaxed experience and never leave your customer feeling dissatisfied. Or, you may even motivate them to come back because they know there's more to discover.
Wayfinding is the behavior and thinking needed to find one's way. We achieve this through wayshowing and signage. Wayshowing capitalizes on the user's orientation ability. Finding the way is primarily initiated and supported by natural, architectural, and design elements that are visually visible in the environment. For example, a large tree, a distinctive building, a winding path, etc. Signage refers to the tools that help you find your way, such as text, icons, floor plans, signs, wayfinding, and other graphic communication.
Everything starts with the available information for the user and the steps a user goes through in such a navigation process. We always assume that someone is coming 'for the first time' and picks up the necessary information. The acquired information is processed (thought process), allowing you to orient yourself.You make a choice (take action) of where you want to go and seek confirmation if you are on the right path or have arrived at the correct place. When a visitor looks for their way, it always happens in four steps: orienting, deciding, monitoring, and recognizing.
Orienting | First, the user determines the location based on the environment. For example, you are at Antwerp Central Station and want to go to the Groenplaats. Deciding | Then the person chooses a certain direction to reach the destination. For example, you choose to walk via the Keyserlei. Monitoring | Along the way, it becomes clear that the chosen route leads to the desired location. For example, you walk along the Meir and recognize the Boerentoren in the distance. Recognizing | Finally, you recognize the destination, in this example, the Groenplaats.
Wayfinding is the behavior and thinking needed to find one's way. We achieve this through wayshowing and signage. Wayshowing capitalizes on the user's orientation ability. Finding the way is primarily initiated and supported by natural, architectural, and design elements that are visually visible in the environment. For example, a large tree, a distinctive building, a winding path, etc. Signage refers to the tools that help you find your way, such as text, icons, floor plans, signs, wayfinding, and other graphic communication.In the wayfinding process, there are natural steps and human behaviors that we always keep in mind. For example, people often scan the right side of the environment they enter first. That's why it's crucial to place important information points like the reception on the right side of the entrance to a museum or doctor's office. People are also often herd animals: they often automatically follow their predecessor.
It is crucial to provide the visitor with the necessary information at the right moment, but not more than strictly necessary. Someone quickly becomes overstimulated with too much information or choices. That's why it's essential to intuitively show the way to a visitor by giving the right stimulus at the right time. This is also known as step-by-step information. There are also different forms of communication to consider: identifying, orienting, providing direction, informing & telling, house rules (checking).
Signage in the form of signs is an additional tool, but not the essence of wayfinding (e.g., the design of a door can invite or deter). Our goal is always to guide the visitor in the right direction based on the environment.The most important aspects stand out the most, such as a striking facade that you recognize in the street: 'Hey, there it is!' Others should only become noticeable when you are nearby and specifically looking for them. For example, signs indicating the way to the toilets.
You may wonder: how do you start such a wayfinding process? At Studio Dott, it's a group effort. Our interior, service, and branding designers put their heads together. The interior team conducts an environmental analysis: at the macro- (very large environment outside the site), meso- (around the site), and micro-level (on the site). This means we analyze the entire route a visitor takes: from home to the site. Our service designers extensively research visitor flows and personas through interviews and observation. Why do people come to this location? What are their motives, needs, and habits? What characterizes their route on the site? And last but not least, what does our client want to achieve?
By combining these results, we find out where the pain points are, where the strengths of the building or environment are, and where the visitor needs that extra stimulus or guidance. We always look for the least invasive solution with the most significant impact. We do this by analyzing the environment thoroughly and using our knowledge and experience. Our goal is always to guide the visitor through intuitive wayfinding and optimize the elements that improve the environment's readability. Not only within a building but also in an area like the route of Bruegel in the municipality of Dilbeek.
To optimize the readability of the environment, we use natural, architectural, and design elements. As an illustration of these different elements, we use the Middelheim Museum. We are currently working on a large-scale wayfinding project for them. When we talk about natural elements in an open-air museum, we refer to vegetation, such as a row of trees to walk along, dense bushes as a barrier, an open field to look out over, a gap cut in a hedge that guides you the way. Architectural elements in this case are the built environment: for example, an Antwerp visitor can orient themselves by seeing the ZNA building. But also artworks and other constructions are part of it. Design elements are added or created elements such as a straight or winding path, path materials, gates, barriers through elevations, fences, or walls. For all three elements, small interventions may be sufficient (such as closing a door, removing or placing vegetation, moving an object in space), but larger changes may also be necessary, such as completely reversing a museum route. An example of this can be found in the wayfinding strategy of the Rubenshuis.
Here, our branding designers come to the rescue. We always keep an eye on the user's experience and interaction with the environment. Where the visitor is uncertain, we help by providing visual elements to make a choice. Our branding experts are real masters at designing signage. They know how to find a balance: they make visual elements stand out when necessary and ensure they fit the environment and the recognizable style of the museum, store, organization, etc. Or they develop a new custom style for the organization. Always with the aim of making the correct information stand out at the right time. Whether it's permanent or temporary, we designed movable communication tools for De Singel.
So, signage is the very last step and is only used when necessary. Signage is indispensable as a communication tool to guide visitors in the direction they are coming to for the first time. This gives them a familiar feeling in an unfamiliar place.