What is wayfinding and signage?
About wayfinding and signage
Wayfinding is about effective communication and relies on a succession of communication cues delivered through our sensory system or visional, audible, tactile and olfactory elements.
Wayfinding can be complex for people to navigate, particularly if they are a first-time visitor to a destination. A clearly defined wayfinding system should include:
- Pre-visit information
- Architectural and environmental cues
- Signage and information that is easy to read and in logical locations.
Effective wayfinding systems will assist people to:
- Confirm they are at the correct start or finish point of a journey
- Identify their location within a building or external space
- Reinforce they are travelling in the right direction
- Orient themselves within a building or external space
- Understand the location and any potential hazards
- Identify their destination on arrival
- Escape safely in an emergency[vii].
What is wayfinding?
Wayfinding is the process of how people orientate themselves and navigate in a space or along a pathway. It is a combination of graphic design, architectural design and landscape design. Signage can help wayfinding.
Wayfinding is about knowing where you are, where you’re headed, how to get there, how to recognise when you’re there, and when needed, how to find your way out of a place.
Wayfinding enables problem solving and moving around spaces by using consistent environmental clues. Design features that enable wayfinding include lines on the ground to indicate a way out, and symbols and colours to indicate male/female toilets, accessible toilets, lifts and exits.
Good wayfinding design can minimise the need for detailed signage.
Effective wayfinding principles and strategies will reduce the likelihood of errors in navigation and orientation.
What is signage?
Signage and other visual, tactile, sound, colour and light cues can either assist or hinder how people get around, find their way from one point to another and how to exit a place. When a space or pathway is well-considered and well-signed, it can help everyone feel more confident and safer, and can be essential for people with disability.
Signage and wayfinding design features should be consistent within and across different environments. Consistent features assist people to understand information and learn the patterns in a space, for instance, always using the same recognizable green signs for exits.
Use of universal signs, such as road traffic signs, mean that through repeated use, they are understood without words and assist people move about and in the case of traffic signs to travel safely on roads.
Developing an effective wayfinding system begins with developing a strategy and ensuring a consistent approach is delivered. This requires engaging with a range of stakeholders and may involve a co-design process. The Consultation and Engagement with people living with disability toolkit has further information on co-design with people with lived experience of disability.
Disability inclusion in wayfinding
Why is it important?
Wayfinding and signage that considers accessibility and inclusion assists a diversity of users:
- multi-sensory features, including audible cues, scents and landmarks help all visitors
- wayfinding and signage that clearly indicates the accessible route through a building or public space benefits people with a mobility impairment and parents with prams
- use of shorelines, colour, texture and luminance contrast benefits people with low vision
- visual cues such as landmarks and pictograms on signs help tourists and people with lower literacy in English.
Wayfinding and signage requirements
Wayfinding — Key requirements
Consideration should be given to the four main criteria in wayfinding design:
- architectural cues (which can include landscape design)
- graphic communication
- audible communication
- tactile communication.
Signage — General requirements
Work within a hierarchy of signage to maximise impact and usability as follows:
- identification such as property, building number, name visible from the roadside, distance, direction of travel
- information such as opening hours, facilities available (for example, toilets) and their location such as directly inside site or building entrance
- direction such as text and arrows directing users to facilities (for example, at directional decision points, to car parking, set down and waiting areas)
- emergency and safety signs such as at relevant and required locations including emergency exits.
- text such as appropriate text choice, size and colour on all signs suitable for expected viewing distances
- alternatives such as a range of alternatives to printed signage, for example, audio, raised tactile or braille.
Static signage — General requirements
- Appropriately located at entry and exits as well as along continuous accessible paths of travel.
- Clearly visible to, and set at an appropriate height for, people when standing or seated.
- Consistent clear graphic style and layout throughout a site or building.
- Appropriate use of international symbols for access and inclusion.
- Concise and unambiguous content.
- Use of common terms, names and colours rather than obscure, technical names, for example, orange rather than ochre, blue rather than turquoise.
- Use of appropriate inclusive language, ‘accessible’ entry or ramp in preference to ‘disabled’ entry or ramp.
- Factual and specific information about degrees of difficulty of pathways in outdoor spaces such as parks, for example, suitable for tourist / experienced hiker / assisted wheelchair user / independent wheelchair user.
- Use of both capital and lower-case letters (Title Case).
- Use of sans serif font such as Arial or Helvetica.
- Effective contrast between sign and sign background and adjacent surfaces.
- Raised tactile and braille elements on facility identification and direction and toilet signs.
- Back-lit without glare.
- Low reflectivity (avoid glass and acrylic materials).
- Consistent and even lighting (reflected downward without light pooling and eliminating glare) over key elements of the signage and within the space.
- Well-maintained and free from any overhanging obstructions or graffiti.
Screen and scrolling signage — General requirements
- Minimum six second static to allow for reading of sign.
- Audio alternatives to screen or scrolling signs.
Maps — General requirements
- Maps of any site or building provided at the entrance and at key directional points.
- Maps that read in the direction that the user is facing, including information to assist users with their current location (‘You are here’), and identifying fixtures or landmarks to assist with wayfinding (for example, a water fountain, sculpture or arbour).
- Continuity of language in informational maps and signage, for example, a map states ‘pavilion’, with the sign at building also stating ‘pavilion’.
Tactile signs and maps — General requirements
- Tactile signs and maps provided at entry to and key points within a site or building.
- Tactile information associated with general orientation cues, access and exit points, changes in direction and key facilities.
Exhibition signage — General requirements
- Descriptive labelling on exhibits in sans serif font and appropriate size.
- Appropriate lighting.
- Appropriate contrast to background and adjacent surfaces.
- Use of non-reflective signage materials.
- Audio as alternative to signage on displays or exhibits.
Tactile ground surface indicators — General requirements
Hazard tactile ground surface indicators are used to assist with wayfinding. They are installed:
- at the top and bottom of steps, stairs and ramps
- along jetties and raised platform
- in areas where there is an overhead obstruction encroaching on to a pathway
- underneath a stair croft, and
- at changes in direction on pathways.
Directional tactile ground surface indicators assist with wayfinding by providing direction to installations such at road crossing points, seating and public transport stops.
Appropriate luminance contrast must be used between tactile ground surface indicators and background and adjacent surfaces.
Signs — dimension requirements
- International Symbol of Access – white wheelchair on ultramarine blue background
- Braille and tactile signage installed latch-side of door 1200 to 1600 mm above floor level
- Letters 17.5 mm high for each metre of viewing distance.
- Minimum 30 per cent luminance contrast between sign and sign background — white on black, yellow on black and white on ultramarine blue to Australian Standards is recommended.
- If signage can be obscured, installation of duplicate signage located above 2000 mm.
- Sans serif type font such as Arial or Helvetica.
- Signage located within the common ‘Zones for Viewing’ in accordance with Australian Standards.
- Tactile and braille signage installed to identify:
- an accessible entry of a building at any non-accessible entry
- an accessible toilet and the type of toilet provided, left-hand use or right-hand use
- a toilet for ambulant users
- hearing augmentation type and space covered and the location of receivers if in use lifts.
- Tactile ground surface indicators set back 300 mm ± 10 mm from any hazard (600 to 800 mm deep), extending across width of a path adjoining the hazard, and have a minimum of 30 per cent luminance contrast to the surrounding ground surface and background. (Dimensions for tactile ground surface indicators, both hazard and directional, at specific locations and required luminance contrasts in accordance with Australian Standards).
- Raised tactile and braille signs mounted at a height of 1200 to 1600 mm above the ground or floor surface
- Appropriate international symbol of access as required.