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Wayfinding (or way-finding) encompasses all of the ways in which people (and animals) orient themselves in physical space and navigate from place to place.

Basic process[edit]

The basic process of wayfinding involves four stages:

  1. Orientation is the attempt to determine one's location, in relation to objects that may be nearby and the desired destination.
  2. Route decision is the selection of a course of direction to the destination.
  3. Route monitoring is checking to make sure that the selected route is heading towards the destination.
  4. Destination recognition is when the destination is recognized.[1]


Historically, wayfinding refers to the techniques used by travelers over land and sea to find relatively unmarked and often mislabeled routes. These include but are not limited to dead reckoning, map and compass, astronomical positioning and, more recently, global positioning.[citation needed]

Wayfinding can also refer to the traditional navigation method used by indigenous peoples of Polynesia.[2] The ancient Polynesians and Pacific Islanders mastered the methods of wayfinding to explore and settle on the islands of the Pacific, many using devices such as the Marshall Islands stick chart. With these skills, some of them were even able to navigate the ocean as well as they could navigate their own land. Despite the dangers of being out at sea for a long time, wayfinding was a way of life.[3] Today, The Polynesian Voyaging Society tries-out the traditional Polynesian ways of navigation. In October 2014, the crew of the Hokuleʻa arrived on another island in Tonga.

“Sticky” navigation (nav) bars that follow you down the page are a great way to make sure your menu is there the moment a visitor decides to explore your site further. If your new customer is on a mission for a particular product, however, your menus need to be easy to navigate, otherwise you risk page abandonment. Problem is all the way down 60 navigation is constantly trying to reroute me to 64. On Mapquest for PC I used to be able to click on 64 and tell it to avoid 64 and I would be routed to 60 or 5.


Modern usage of the term[edit]

Help Customers Find Their Way With Better Navigation

Recently, wayfinding has been used in the context of architecture to refer to the user experience of orientation and choosing a path within the built environment. Kevin A. Lynch used the term (originally 'way-finding') for his 1960 book The Image of the City, where he defined way-finding as 'a consistent use and organization of definite sensory cues from the external environment.'[4]

In 1984 environmental psychologist Romedi Passini published the full-length 'Wayfinding in Architecture' and expanded the concept to include the use of signage and other graphic communication, visual clues in the built environment, audible communication, tactile elements, including provisions for special-needs users.[5]

The wayfinding concept was further expanded in a further book by renowned Canadian graphic designer Paul Arthur, and Romedi Passini, published in 1992, 'Wayfinding: People, Signs and Architecture.' The book serves as a veritable wayfinding bible of descriptions, illustrations, and lists, all set into a practical context of how people use both signs and other wayfinding cues to find their way in complex environments. There is an extensive bibliography, including information on exiting information and how effective it has been during emergencies such as fires in public places.[6]

Wayfinding also refers to the set of architectural or design elements that aid orientation. Today, the term wayshowing, coined by Per Mollerup,[7] is used to cover the act of assisting way finding.[8] describes the difference between wayshowing and way finding, and codifies the nine wayfinding strategies we all use when navigating in unknown territories. However, there is some debate over the importance of using the term wayshowing, some argue that it merely adds confusion to a discipline that is already highly misunderstood.

In 2010 AHA Press Published 'WAYFINDING FOR HEALTHCARE Best Practices for Today's Facilities', written by Randy R. Cooper. The book takes a comprehensive view of Wayfinding specifically for those in search of medical care.[9]

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Whilst wayfinding applies to cross disciplinary practices including architecture, art and design, signage design, psychology, environmental studies, one of the most recent definitions by Paul Symonds et al.[10] defines wayfinding as 'The cognitive, social and corporeal process and experience of locating, following or discovering a route through and to a given space'. Wayfinding is an embodied and sociocultural activity in addition to being a cognitive process in that wayfinding takes place almost exclusively in social environments with, around and past other people and influenced by stakeholders who manage and control the routes through which we try to find our way. The route is often one we might take for pleasure, such as to see a scenic highway, or one we take as a physical challenge such as trying to find the way through a series of caves showing our behavioural biases. Wayfinding is a complex practice that very often involves several techniques such as people-asking (asking people for directions) and crowd following and is thus a practice that combines psychological and sociocultural processes.

In addition to the built environment, the concept of wayfinding has also recently been applied to the concept of career development and an individual's attempt to create meaning within the context of career identity. This was addressed in late August, 2017 in the NPR podcast You 2.0: How Silicon Valley Can Help You Get Unstuck.[11] The wayfinding concept is also similar to information architecture, as both use information-seeking behaviour in information environments. Tate, a UX designer, pointed out in his blogpost the language used when interacting with computers is thought of spatially, like “browsing the web, surfing the net, going home, etc”.[12] He focuses on showing how Lynch’s model can be applied to information environments, which are places users go “to satisfy an information need”.[12] He shows how berrypicking is very much about wayfinding, as when people go from A to B they pick up new pieces of information along the way, to confirm they are moving in the right direction.

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Wayfinding Theory[edit]

In Lynch's The Image of the City,[4] he created a model of cities as a framework on which to build wayfinding systems. The 5 elements are what he found people use to orient themselves with a mental map. They are:

  • Paths - the roads used to move around
  • Edges - roads which define the boundaries and breaks in continuity
  • Districts - areas which share similar characteristics
  • Nodes - strong intersection points of roads like squares or junctions
  • Landmarks - easily identifiable entities which are used for point-referencing, usually physical objects

Expanding on Mollerup's nine wayfinding strategies mentioned above, they are:

  • Track following: to rely on directional signs on the road
  • Route following: to follow the rules given, such as a pre-planned route before the journey started
  • Educated seeking: to use past experiences to draw logical conclusions on where to go
  • Inference: to apply norms and expectations of where things are
  • Screening: to systematically search the area for a helpful clue, though there may well not be any
  • Aiming: to find a perceptible target and move in that specific direction
  • Map reading: to use portable or stationary maps and help the user locate themselves
  • Compassing: to navigate oneself with a figurative compass, such as the location of the sun or a landmark
  • Social navigation: to follow the crowd and learn from other people’s actions

Going further with the cognitive process, understanding it helps to build a better wayfinding system as designers learn how people navigate their way around and how to use those elements.

Chris Girling uses a cyclical model to explain how our decisions and actions change as we move. “Our brains are constantly sensing information, co-ordinating movement, remembering the environment and planning next steps”.[13] The model shows how our perception can influence what information we seek out, such as some signage being too small to read or even too high up. Once we find the information we want, we make a decision which will depend on previous experiences. Finally we move, during which we look for more information to confirm that we made the right decision for our journey. The cognitive load of this will vary from person to person, as some will know the journey well while it is new to others. This understanding helps designers develop empathy for the user, as they research and test various wayfinding systems adapted to each context.

Wayfinding in architecture, signage and urban planning[edit]

Passengers walk past signs at Newark Airport. Large facilities with high tourist volumes may invest significantly in wayfinding and signage programs.

Modern wayfinding has begun to incorporate research on why people get lost, how they react to signage and how these systems can be improved.

Urban planning[edit]

An example of an urban wayfinding scheme is the Legible London Wayfinding system.

Nashville, Tennessee has introduced a live music wayfinding plan. Posted outside each live music venue is a guitar pick reading Live Music Venue.[14]

Indoor wayfinding[edit]

Indoor wayfinding in public buildings such as hospitals is commonly aided by kiosks,[15] indoor maps, and building directories. Such spaces that involve areas outside the normal vocabulary of visitors show the need for a common set of language-independent symbols.[citation needed]Offering indoor maps for handheld mobile devices is becoming common, as are digital information kiosk systems.

Other frequent wayfinding aids are the use of color coding[16] and signage clustering—used to order the information into a hierarchy and prevent the issue of information overload.[17] A number of recent airport terminals include ceiling designs and flooring patterns that encourage passengers to move along the required directional flow.[18] Some terminals include artworks as landmarks for orientation.

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) represented a milestone in helping to make spaces universally accessible and improving wayfinding for users.[citation needed]


Signage is the most visual part of wayfinding. A good wayfinding system needs well designed signage, but it also has to be well placed and to match the user’s language.

There are four types of signs most commonly used which help navigate users and give them appropriate information.[19] They are:

  • Informational: These provide useful information on the place where the users are, such as free wifi, opening hours, etc.
  • Directional: As the name indicates, these direct users with arrows saying which way to go for whichever purpose. These most often at junctions when the user must make a decision about the route.
  • Identification:To help users recognise where they currently are, identification signs can be placed at the entrances of buildings, parks, etc. They symbolise the arrival to a destination.
  • Regulatory: These let people know what they can and cannot do in a given area and are most frequently phrased negatively with the aim of creating a safe environment. Examples include “no smoking” or “restricted area”.

See also[edit]

  • Trail blazing (waymarking)

Further reading[edit]

  • Chris Calori (2007), Signage and Wayfinding Design: A Complete Guide to Creating Environmental Graphic Design Systems, John Wiley & Sons, ISBN0-465-06710-7
  • Environmental Graphics: Projects and Process from Hunt Design.
  • David Gibson (2009), The Wayfinding Handbook: Information Design for Public Places, Princeton Architectural Press, ISBN978-1-56898-769-9
  • Michael Bierut (2015), How to Use Graphic Design to Sell Things, Explain Things, Make Things Look Better, Make People Laugh, Make People Cry, and (Every Once in a While) Change the World, Thames & Hudson.
  • Poulin, Richard. Graphic Design + Architecture. A 20th-century History. Rockport Publishers, 2012.
  • Per Mollerop (2005), Wayshowing: A Guide to Environmental Signage Principles & Practices, Lars Muller Publications
  • Paul Arthur and Romedi Passini 'Wayfinding: People, Signs and Architecture', (originally published 1992, McGraw Hill, reissued in a limited commemorative edition in 2002 by SEGD). ISBN978-0075510161, ISBN0075510162
  • Uebele, Andreas. Signage Systems and Information Graphics. Thames & Hudson, 2007
  • Menno Hubregtse (2020), Wayfinding, Consumption, and Air Terminal Design, Routledge, ISBN9780367352561


  1. ^Lidwell, William, Kritina Holden and Jill Butler. Universal Principles of Design. (Rockport Publishers, Beverly, MA, 2010) p. 260.
  2. ^Polynesian Voyaging Society (2009)
  3. ^Daniel Lin, 'Hokuleʻa: The Art of Wayfinding (Interview with a Master Navigator),'National Geographic website, 3 March 2014, retrieved on 29 October 2014.
  4. ^ abLynch, Kevin (1960). The Image of the City. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The M.I.T. Press.
  5. ^Yanling, Wang (2005-01-01). 'Creating positive wayfinding experience'. Iowa State University Digital Repository. Retrieved 7-10-2020.Check date values in: access-date= (help)
  6. ^Originally published 1992, McGraw Hill, reissued in a limited commemorative edition in 2002 by SEGD. ISBN978-0075510161
  7. ^Per Mollerup, Wayshowing, A Guide to Environmental Signage (Lars Muller Publisher)
  8. ^Per Mollerup, Wayshowing>Wayfinding: Basic & Interactive (BIS Publishers)
  9. ^AHA Press, Health Forum Inc., An American Hospital Association Company – Chicago
  10. ^Symonds, Paul; Brown, David H. K.; Lo Iacono, Valeria (2017). 'Wayfinding as an Embodied Sociocultural Experience'. Sociological Research Online. 22 (1): 5. doi:10.5153/sro.4185. hdl:10369/8378.
  11. ^'How Silicon Valley Can Help You Get Unstuck'. NPR. August 28, 2017.
  12. ^ ab'Information Wayfinding Tyler Tate'. Retrieved 2019-11-16.
  13. ^Girling, Chris (2016-11-07). 'Science & Psychology of Wayfinding'. CCD Design. Retrieved 2019-11-16.
  14. ^'Visitors'. Nashville Music City.
  15. ^Raven, A., Laberge, J., Ganton, J. & Johnson, M., Wayfinding in a Hospital: Electronic Kiosks Point the Way, UX Magazine 14.3, September 2014.
  16. ^Symonds, Paul (2017-04-24). 'Using Colours in Wayfinding and Navigation'.
  17. ^'Clustering and Signage in Wayfinding'. 2018-04-27.
  18. ^Menno Hubregtse, Wayfinding, Consumption, and Air Terminal Design (London: Routledge, 2020).
  19. ^Peate, Stephen (8 June 2018). 'The Wonders of Wayfinding Design'. Fabrik Brands. Retrieved 16 November 2019.
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An innovative product doesn’t come from a law passed by the government. It also doesn’t come from venture capitalists looking for a higher return on an investment. Innovation comes from identifying customers’ needs and providing solutions that meet those needs.

Companies like Uber, Airbnb, and Intuit understand this. Uber’s success, for example, has come not from building new, better taxis, but from seeing — and then solving — people’s transportation problems.

Although you might not be working on the next Airbnb, Uber, or even a product you think is exciting, like business software, or temperature controls, understanding and identifying customer needs may lead to a revolutionary innovation. After all, Nest revolutionized the rather mundane industry of thermostats and changed how everyone heats and cools houses.

Starting with existing data

You most likely have existing data at your fingertips. Review past surveys, customer interviews, and customer-support call logs. There’s no point in funding an extensive and expensive research campaign if the data you need is already collected.

Help Customers Find Their Way With Better Navigation Devices

Save the budget for data you don’t have and more advanced questions you need answered.

Interviewing stakeholders

Why not begin with the data you don’t have to pay for: the collective knowledge stakeholders have. Start with sales and support teams. They know the product and the customer. They often have a list of feature requests, bug reports, and enhancements — straight from the customer’s mouth.

Combine these to generate a preliminary list of requirements. Look for patterns, but don’t automatically dismiss one-offs — look to corroborate them with findings from other methods.

Mapping the customer process

If you know your customer’s process, map it out.

For example, before Uber, to get a ride you called a taxi company, waited to reach a dispatcher, waited for a car to be dispatched, hoped the driver would find you, and hoped you had enough cash when you reached your destination.

With Uber, you open your smartphone and summon the nearest car with one tap; you already know how far away the car is because you can see it in real time on a map. The driver also sees your location so he or she can come right to you. The figure shows a simple process map comparing these experiences.

Mapping the customer journey

A customer journey map is a visualization of the process a customer goes through when engaging with a product or service. It takes process mapping to a new level by including multiple phases and touchpoints a person goes through — from prospect to loyal customer. It’s a document meant to unify fragmented efforts and identify points of friction and opportunities for improvement.

Finding and fixing the pain points in a customer’s journey isn’t just about damage control: It’s also about the innovation that comes from fixing the pain.

Conducting “follow me home” research

“Follow me home” research relies on observation by literally following a customer home or to work. You follow a customer to her workplace, spending the day watching her do her job. You observe process pain points and then look for opportunities for improvement.

For example, during a “follow me home” exercise, a team of researchers at Intuit noticed that retail customers were exporting their transactions from their point-of-sale cash registers into QuickBooks to manage their books. This step took time and sometimes led to failure and frustration. The innovative solution? Developers integrated QuickBooks into a cash register and eliminated the export step for customers and created a new version called QuickBooks Point of Sale (POS).

Interviewing customers

Go right to the source: Ask customers what problems they have and what features they want. Even when customers can’t articulate their needs clearly, you can often gain insights that lead to successful innovations.

Use the “Five Whys” technique to help you discover what needs people don’t even know they have, needs that no one has recognized before: Keep asking why until you get at the root cause of the problem and not a symptom. (It’s called “Five Whys” because you often have to go through five levels before you get to the point where you can make a change that addresses the problem.)

Conducting voice of customer surveys

Voice of Customer surveys collect data, from email or from a pop-up on a website, about the attitudes and expectations of existing or prospective customers. Use a mix of open- and closed-ended questions to see what produces the most useful data.

Although customers aren’t necessarily good at identifying their needs, this type of survey often yields data from which you can discern customer goals, challenges, problems, and attitudes, and then recommend opportunities for improvement.

Analyzing your competition

Consider using research firms that might present a more objective face to customers who engage with your organization and its competition. Consider using the SWOT rule: Identify your competitors’ strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. You can use a SWOT for a brand, product, or even an experience.

Define the competition both narrowly and broadly. Don’t just look at your competition in the same industry, but other industries as well.

Analyzing cause-and-effect relationships

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No one will disagree that it’s usually good to think positively, but sometimes, negative thinking can solve problems more effectively. Through observations, surveys, and other data sources, you may find problems that are actually just symptoms of other root cause problems.

Task failures, errors, and long task times are usually the symptoms of multiple underlying problems. These can be problems in the interface or a disconnection with the user’s goals. Through the process of asking “Why?” multiple times and segmenting different causes, you can help identify and address root problems in the user experience.

Recording experiences through diary studies

Sometimes opportunities reveal themselves over time. One cost-effective longitudinal method is a diary study. Ask participants to record problems, frustrations, positive experiences, or thoughts at intervals throughout a day, week, or even a year. This can be low tech, with customers writing their experiences and thoughts down on paper and mailing it in, or high tech, in which you send text messages or emailed surveys to customers at particular intervals.

Because you’re asking your customer to do the data collection for you, be sure you have targeted questions and clear hypotheses you want to test with all the data that gets collected.

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Expect a good percentage of customers to drop out or not be 100% diligent about filling out their diaries. Still, any information you can garner is better than no information at all. After all, you can’t fix what you don’t know about.