The Principles of Wayfinding Design & Signage

8 October 2021 6 min read

Wayfinding is a tool that helps people navigate between two or more points.

What is wayfinding?

Wayfinding signage is an integral yet unsung part of everyday life. Airports, highways, shopping centres, hospitals and other facilities use systems of signs and other visual cues to guide users from A to B in the most efficient way possible.

Why is wayfinding important?

Wayfinding Signage is valuable because it allows individuals to navigate unfamiliar spaces more easily and efficiently, making return trips easier and more pleasant for customers or visitors.

At its best wayfinding creates an excellent opportunity for companies to create more immersive branding experiences. When it comes to wayfinding it is important that the user does not have to overthink. Instead, you should create a visual communication system that is clear and consistent with concise messaging. It is also important that you only show what is needed. Any excess information will quickly become background noise and clutter in the users’ mind, ultimately confusing their journey.

What are the principles of wayfinding?

An effective wayfinding design must be:

  • Easily recognisable
  • Understandable by people of different languages and cultures (such as in airports)
  • Suitable for people of varying abilities, including the visually impaired and hard of hearing (do remember that signage is not just visual, it can also include audio)
  • Signage is readable from different distances and heights
  • Designed to fit in with the branding of the environment or location where it is being installed and to compliment any other signage that it already in place.

Keeping all of this in mind, these are the Principles of Wayfinding that should be emphasised within a navigation system:

  • Identity
  • Landmarks
  • Paths
  • Differing Regions
  • Limiting Navigational Choices
  • Signs at Decision points

Wayfinding Signage


1. Create a unique identity for each location

Each location should have an identifying characteristic that sets it apart from all others. This allows the visitor to easily identify the location based on visual information. This core principle of creating an identity can be obtained through various methods, including colour schemes, unique textures, text styles or fonts. It is important to note that while your identifying marker must be easily recognisable, it faces the dual challenge of needing to be as unobtrusive as possible within the larger context of the environment.

Westgate Shopping Centre wayfinding illuminated monoliths and totem signage


2. Use landmarks as visual cues

Landmarks also serve an important function in wayfinding. If a navigator knows a specific landmark in relation to their larger environment, then they know their position and can navigate where to go next. Landmarks’ most important attribute is their visibility – this can help organise and define a specific area or space. It is however important to use them sparingly as too many landmarks can create clutter and make a location less unique or identifiable.

Dantzic St Wayfinding Sign


3. Create well-structured paths

An important wayfinding principle is getting the user from A to B in a structured manner. A well-structured path helps navigators to maintain their orientation, allowing them to move from landmark to landmark without getting lost. Large areas, such as hospital wards or university campuses with multiple buildings, benefit from well-structed paths. With markers strategically placed throughout the route, location awareness is heightened, letting the navigator know that they are in the right place and heading in the right direction.

Wayfinding WAY2GO totem stone signage by isGroup Signs


4. Create regions with unique visual character

To assist with wayfinding in a large area, the area should be subdivided into smaller, easier to map out regions. Each region should have a set of visual attributes that define and set it apart from the others. There is no specific requirement regarding a region’s overall size; what is most important is that each is unique. With the regions divided, it is easy for someone to move from one space to another as needed. In an airport, for example, each unique region uses different identifying colours, indicating where check-in, security, and boarding take place. This provides a useful function while helping the visitor navigate the larger airport environment.

Metquarter Liverpool Internal Indoor Wall Directory Wayfinding Retail Signage


5. Limit user choice

It is important to restrict the navigator’s wayfinding choices as much as possible by displaying only the most pertinent information. While there may be multiple ways to get from place to place, the space should be designed that only 1 or 2 routes are listed and defined. Limiting user choice prevents confusion and allows them to orient themselves to their surroundings faster. This principle is important if you want the navigator to experience something specific along your path. By eliminating the option for detours and keeping them on a primary defined path, they can establish an understanding of the space faster.

Alderley Park Wayfinding Sign


6. Provide signs at decision points

Decision points occur in areas where the navigator must decide to either continue their route or change direction. Wayfinding Signs at decision points help to provide more detailed information regarding what lies ahead on either path, helping to establish their own place while furthering the goal of getting them to their destination. A sign should have navigational information that is authoritative and unambiguous. If the consequence of making a wrong turn may be negative for the visitor or there is insufficient information available at the decision point, a sign is necessary.

At airports, it is critical that people can move quickly and easily around the facility as the consequence of getting lost is potentially missing a flight. This means multiple signs are necessary for helping people get to where they need to go while communicating to them that they are on the right path.

University of Warwick NAIC internal indoor wall folded directory wayfinding signage


Here at isGroup, we create bespoke wayfinding signage which aligns with all core principles. We are experts at creating bespoke wayfinding signage designed to meet your exact requirements and user needs. With 40 years of experience, we know exactly what it takes to deliver your project on time and on budget.

isGroup’s flagship WAY2GO product range has a wayfinding solution to suit any environment. The WAY2GO signage range offers beautifully crafted, perfectly functional, and cost-effective wayfinding solutions. The WAY2GO system aesthetically delivers information in a clear and instinctive way to provide an intuitive user experience. These stunning designs are available to customise through a range of engineered or natural materials with a vast range of colours to suit any environment.


Morecombe Wayfinding WAY2GO Totem


Start the conversation with one of our wayfinding experts on 01352 79200 or email us at


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