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What is wayfinding? Wayfinding exists in many scales and environments. It navigates readers through a city, hospital corridor or airport, calls attention to a storefront, or provides information about an exhibit.

Wayfinding is essentially a succession of clues comprising visual, audible and tactile elements. The components of any visual wayfinding system exceed signs to encompass architecture, lighting, landscape and landmarks. Good wayfinding helps users experience an environment in a positive way and facilitates getting from point A to point B. When executed successfully, the system can reassure users and create a welcoming environment, as well as answer questions before users even ask them.

However, too much information can be as ineffective as too little. Developing a hierarchy of information is a critical component of wayfinding, with users being the primary consideration. The speed, visual environment and distance from which the information will be viewed are key considerations.

Less information on a sign can be read by a driver at 50 mph than by a pedestrian standing 3 ft. away. This may seem obvious, but consider how many times you've driven past a sign that bears more information than you could absorb. "More" is not necessarily better; even a well-designed program can get lost in visual clutter.

Wayfinding's effectiveness also depends on typeface, font, size and spacing between letters and words. For example, a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters is easier to read than only uppercase. Color contrast is also essential for optimum readability.

Wayfinding is a system of information; therefore, elements of the system must be well maintained. A strategy and plan for maintenance is as critical to success as the design. And with ever-improving technology and new navigational tools like the Global Information System (GIS) and the Global Positioning System (GPS), a wayfinding element can be as small as a wristwatch.

In summary, an effective wayfinding program is designed to communicate information clearly and concisely. A well-designed visual communication system may be beautiful. However, it's not art; it must answer a specific need.

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ADA Signage: Wayfinding
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