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Great Example of Low Tech Wayfinding Design

Orford Ness Visitor Map

Courtesy The National Trust: Visitor Map for Orford Ness

With the emphasis in design consultancy tending to be on the new and innovative, we’ve come to expect detailed design reports and strategies; multi-component product specifications and manufacturing lead times spanning several months. But there’s always room for low tech wayfinding design solutions.

As demonstrated by the simplicity and pragmatism of the wayfinding at Orford Ness, which really struck a chord. If you’re not familiar, it’s a former military testing site located on a shingle spit near Aldeburgh in Suffolk. Now owned by the National Trust, it is both a marsh land nature reserve and historic site

If you find yourselves in Suffolk it’s well worth a visit. It’s unusual in an outdoor attraction, that a grey cloudy day adds to what is already an atmospheric environment to enhance the experience.

Views of pagoda buildings at Orford Ness
Views across the shingle at Orford Ness

Views across the shingle and the pagoda buildings

When the base was decommissioned, buildings were fully or partly demolished with others left to the elements.  The site is littered with the foundations of old buildings, overgrown with brambles; piles of rusting metal and old brick work; alongside huge concrete pagoda buildings used in weapons testing. All contributing to a post-apocalyptic atmosphere.

Evidence of previous life at Orford Ness
Debris from the dismantling and demolition of the site at Orford Ness
Views through an abandoned building at Orford Ness

Access is via boat with all arrivals greeted by National Trust Volunteers that explain the lie of the land. Although a large site, there are only three different routes to follow. The huge bunkers on the flat shingle provide very effective landmarks and beacons. So the wayfinding information requirements are not terribly complex. 


Example of low tech wayfinding design - Painted arrows on tarmac - Orford Ness
Example of low tech wayfinding design - arrow painted on a block at Orford Ness
Example of low tech wayfinding design - Directional signs -painted arrows on bricks at Orford Ness

Directional wayfinding Signs on the trails at Orford Ness.  In using materials to hand, it is a true example in action of repurposing and minimising Co2 miles. Although a low tech wayfinding design solution, the end result so fits the environment adding to the general atmosphere. 

Rather than use traditional directional fingerposts to mark the routes, they’ve made use of the materials to hand and pots of coloured paint to draw large arrows.  I suspect a wayfinding consultant wasn’t called in to help with this one – but if they we’re – hats off to you for having the courage to propose such a low-tech solution.  It so suits the environment and is difficult to miss. It was probably implemented in less than a day and would have only cost a few quid, with minimal ongoing maintenance requirements. And it really is using reclaimed materials with minimal CO2 transport costs. Genius…