What is Wayfinding?
I did not always know what wayfinding means. But ever since I left Bulgaria to come to America I have been looking to find my way.
The first time I heard the term “wayfinding” was in JetBlue Airways when I worked on the fusion design of the physical and digital experience at the airport. We were mapping out the positioning of all the kiosks in the lobby and were ideating how to “visually tell” our customers that they need to print their bag tags before they approach the new bag drop positions. It turned out this was not as easy as I thought.
Wayfinding and Customer Experience Design
The best definition of wayfinding comes from Hunt Design – “the act of self-guiding. Wayfinding is gaining an understanding of where you are relative to other things in your environment and then moving successfully and intentionally to another location.”
Wayfinding is an essential part of customer experience design. It is especially important for the customer experience in physical spaces. Let’s take an airport lobby. The moment the already flustered traveler walks in, he/she is intuitively looking where to go. The first question he/she asks: “where do I check-in for my flight today?” The empathetic design, positioning, and flow of signs that inform the passenger what his/her next step is wayfinding. This can be done in several ways. Some airports paint their walls (JetBlue did that at JFK). Others use information sign hanging from ceilings or use digital displays with rotational information. The American Museum of Natural History chose to include images (arrows and short text) on the ground. All of these options are more costly, but have the big benefit of being visible in crowded spaces.
In the tech world wayfinding can be applied using an app. For example, your preferred airline can pick up that you are in the airport and send you real-time notification to guide you where to go next. With the use of beacons and other technology you can also be able to see an interactive map of an airport on your display. You can also expect to encounter robots in the future that you can follow to your gate. The common denominator among all these tools is the genuine passion to help people get to their ultimate destination.
Done well, wayfinding guides you to your next step. It shows you where to go WITHOUT having to talk to a HUMAN.
Wayfinding Manages your Journey
Another big benefit of wayfinding is that it can gets you where you want to go ON TIME. Heathrow Airport has done an amazing job installing a journey map across terminals, buses and trains at the airport with signs that display how FAR the gate is from where you are. This can be the difference between making a flight – and making it home – or remaining stuck in transit at the airport.
Not surprisingly, the way to do this is to achieve this is driven by empathy. First, you need to imagine the need from your customer’s perspective. Then, you need to imagine the context of a stressful day. Don’t design wayfinding experiences for the day there is no pressure and no crowds. If you imagine one of your customers in a crowded airport, you will, rightly, rethink the size of the signs you are designing and make them bigger. Or you might revise the sassy branded language in favor of better, practical language that just says what your customer needs to hear. For example, “Check-in” instead of “Step 1.”
Wayfinding Includes Getting Through, and Getting Out
Wayfinding is also how you find where you need to go at a conference. If your conference is in a big venue like the Javits Center, it is worth actually walking in the shoes of the delegates to ensure it is easy to find the session rooms. Don’t put one sign in front of a hallway and no signs in front of each separate room door. Delegates can roam that hallway for awhile before they find the right room.
Last thing to keep in mind is exit signs. Unless you are managing a casino, exiting a space should be an easy, intuitive path. At a conference in New York this week, there was no exit sign. Do not forget about your customer’s exit journey. Remember, first and last impression matter in human experiences.
If you are still not sure about what wayfinding is, or if you are now ready to design a customer-centric journey for your guests, reach out. We are here to help.
After 17 years in New York, I can find my way pretty much anywhere. Above and below ground on the subway. Not sure that is the case for the millions visitors on NYC 😉
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