While navigating our environments, we acknowledge two kinds of environmental information. The first category is the environment itself – sightlines to destinations, existing objects that help us maintain orientation, intuitive locations of entrances and exits, even lighting and sounds. These built‐in features in the man‐made (and natural) environment are so-called passive tools of wayfinding. The ideal spaces are abundant with these integrated attributes that promote orientation and understanding.
The second category of wayfinding information is the added elements: signs, directories, maps, colour coding, and other more literal tools that help guide us. These elements are often needed to supplement and clarify the passive environment.
Most environmental graphic designers operate within this category. We plan, design, and implement systems that are added to – or superimposed onto – existing or planned places and spaces.
This combination of passive and active information allows us to find our way in museums, stay oriented in shopping malls, find our way around airports. However, unfortunately, wayfinding specialists are often invited at the final stages of the project, and at that point, there is not much to do besides designing the signs and defining the locations.
This is a missed opportunity. If the spaces haven’t been fully programmed with user circulation in mind they are difficult to navigate even with a signage program being implemented. Moreover, this will result in having more unnecessary signs that will create sign pollution – and consequently more cost. As Jock Kinnier once said ‘good signage cannot cure sick buildings’.
At Modulex we understand that the environments with a higher percentage of passive wayfinding qualities are much better. These are the intuitive, self-guiding places that need relatively few directional signs right where we need, and expect them. We like to work in partnership with architects from the early stages of projects to identify functional issues that the design needs to address.
Successful #wayfinding is not an afterthought.
Managing Partner, Modulex office in Croatia