Designers take note: This is a call to action to suspend the guessing game when it comes to implementing a wayfinding program. It’s not enough to just design beautiful assets, effective typography, and color schemes. Today, designers must think and act like strategists to enable overall success, end-user happiness, and project longevity.
A true metric often overlooked in our modern big-data society is how to design for the overall user experience in a physical environment?
Asking the Right Questions with Wayfinding
User experience is more than a buzzword; it is a psychological introspective on how people engage with physical spaces, utilize products, and react to design. This is why it’s imperative for designers to think like strategists no matter at what level you operate.
Historically, silos and roles influence the entire design process. This is especially true when we talk about wayfinding, whether traditional or digital. Facing the complex problems of getting people from point A to point B becomes tedious. Staying within own area allows you to forget about the overall objectives of the program.
As wayfinding can combine environmental graphic design with architects, project managers, and UX strategists, the design often takes an almost infinite amount of iterations and changes before finally reaching approval. This is often to the detriment of expanding scope creep, bloated budgets, and a ten-time increase in anxiety.
However, this is a tremendous opportunity to allow our designs to influence the overall wayfinding experience and serve as a model to live in the convergence zone of user experience strategy and interface design.
With an effective wayfinding program essentially answering two main questions—“Where are you?” and “Where are you going?”—a strategic-thinking designer can take the answers and introduce new thought processes to solve problems in an empathetic manner and send positive reverberations through the project’s team.
Top 5 Benefits of Using a Wayfinding Strategy in Design:
- It creates a sense of place for the visitor to discover the space on their own accord rather than being bombarded with senseless and irrelevant messaging.
- The visitor experience takes place organically. When the world of design and strategy converge concerning wayfinding, it creates a seamless experience where finding your way is almost considered too easy.
- It builds brand equity. When your wayfinding program is designed in a strategic manner, the brand permeates through signage and discovery.
- When strategy and design converge, the brand’s story is able to shine. No matter the type of brand or wayfinding activation we’re working on, we always strive to ensure the brand story is at the center of everything. It’s a continuation and cornerstone of building brand equity.
- It saves time, money, headaches. Wayfinding often leads to a more positive impact and return on investment. A designer who can think strategically about wayfinding is worth a lot more than a graphic designer doing what they’re told without asking the appropriate or hard questions. Those hard questions are vital in the overall success of the program.
Andy Snyder, Creative Director at OpenEye Global, brings an adaptive approach to all projects:
“We've found success in implementing wayfinding for our clients by combining strategic design thinking with the ability to adapt to find a common ground of what the client wants and what the end user needs,” he explained. “The best wayfinding solutions are able to find the sweet spots of being informative, looking good, and feeling part of the space but also being able stand out enough to want people to engage.”
Adaptive and strategic ways of thinking about wayfinding are becoming the norm with studio groups and agencies. As physical locations turn to digital, translating strategically designing a true user experience becomes paramount.
Steven Picanza is a brand strategist, CMO, and strategic advisor with a core purpose centered around connecting people, products, and organizations with their core audiences. He is currently the director of marketing for OpenEye Global and founder of lifestyle brand The Creative Hustler. Picanza is also an executive board member for the San Diego Entertainment & Arts Guild, a nonprofit he helped establish in 2009.