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Assessing Wayfinding Schemes

When designing a new wayfinding scheme a range of methodologies can be used to test and shape the outcome. But how can we assess the contribution to the performance of the business or destination as a whole? Here we explore different ways for evaluating the performance of wayfinding schemes.
How to assess your wayfinding

In this article we’re focussing on how to assess your wayfinding scheme and why it is important to regularly review performance.

So you’ve invested in new wayfinding signage. The strategy and design have been extensively reviewed and tested; the signs installed to the expected quality – surely job’s a good’un?  Yes, if you’re just interested in day one. But like any investment, to maximise long term value, you need to monitor performance and take action to keep things on track. Afterall, buildings and places rarely exist in isolation. The surrounding environment is constantly evolving, resulting in new wayfinding challenges and opportunities.

Implementing a Wayfinding Review Process

As a first step, you need to set measurable targets and determine the review period. Then it’s a question of deciding:

  1. what data you need to collect; and
  2. how best to collect it.

As discussed below, it may be appropriate to include some wayfinding performance measures within existing research and monitoring activities, but this risks diluting focus.
Given wayfinding’s contribution to a wide number of business activities, there is an argument that it warrants regular review in its own right.

Setting Targets and Measuring Performance

Although it might be a challenge to set targets for a new building; for established ones there are likely to be a range of operational measures and monitoring processes already in place, that could provide the baseline. For example:

  • Customer/staff satisfaction;
  • Operational performance;
  • Brand Awareness/Effectiveness;
  • Productivity; and 
  • Health & Safety.

Customer Satisfaction

Research has proven that there is direct a link between getting lost with stress and dissatisfaction. Therefore, the effectiveness of the wayfinding information is likely to impact on visitor satisfaction.  Making it appropriate to insert wayfinding related questions into routine customer satisfaction research. These could range from how easy visitors were able to find specific locations or find their way round more generally; to the quality and availability of the information provided.

As a wayfinding sign or printed map, is a physical item, observational studies offer a potentially rich source of feedback. Enabling researchers to engage with visitors and explore the effectiveness of the information at the point of consumption.

Operations Management

The number of wayfinding/navigation queries – if staff are frequently asked the way to a particular location there is clearly an issue. Monitoring the number of queries and any consequent fall following an intervention will provide a very tangible measure of success.

Lateness – e.g. for hospital appointments or departure gates in airports. While there are likely to be several non-wayfinding contributors, a carefully considered wayfinding solution could reduce the problem. Again with a direct and measurable outcome.

Brand Awareness/Effectiveness

The design and functionality of wayfinding signs and printed maps provide a key opportunity for expressing the identity or character of a brand/place. So these aspects of the manifestation of the brand should be considered within any brand awareness or effectiveness research. Particularly where the destination is a key component of the brand experience.


Opportunity Costs – While staff are busy responding to wayfinding queries or waiting for late arrivals for appointments, they can’t get on with their day job or add value to the business. An oft quoted 1990s study in Emory University Hospital, Washington by academic C Zimring, calculated the opportunity cost from wayfinding issues to be $220,000. Improvements in the information which addresses identified problems will translate into increases in productivity measures.

Maximizing footfall –  shopping malls, visitor attractions, transport hubs etc. routinely monitor footfall, to identify both opportunities and challenges. While there could be a number of reasons why traffic to particular locations is below expectations. A small tweak to the wayfinding information that increases visibility could help to significantly improve the situation.  Comparing before and after data, will provide a direct measure of the effectiveness of the intervention. 

Health & Safety

All buildings need to abide by statutory requirements when it comes to wayfinding signage for emergency evacuation. And it’s important that there is clear distinction between this signage and that installed for everyday use. But the everyday wayfinding strategy signage can also have a supplementary healthy and safety function including:

  • Helping emergency services e.g an ambulance, locate someone needing assistance;
  • Reducing crowding, by directing people along less dense routes; 
  • Directing people to emergency equipment such as defibrillators.

With the effectiveness of the signage being evaluated as part of the wider health and safety review processes.

Importance of Ongoing Monitoring

In summary, rather than considering wayfinding as a one off investment, it should be treated as a core service. A service that needs to evolve in line with changing requirements and developments within the local environment. Setting targets and continuously monitoring performance will identify opportunities for enhancing impact, which will ultimately feed into improvements in the operational and commercial performance of the business as a whole.