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Why You Need a Wayfinding Audit and How to Go About It

To maintain the integrity of the investment, it is important that your wayfinding information is updated to reflect any changes to building structures, brand identities and use of space. Rather than introduce another layer of information or limit attention to the affected area, these changes should be integrated seamlessly within the existing wayfinding. Otherwise, you risk creating unnecessary visual clutter, confusion and achieving lower than expected footfall. To do this successfully you need to know exactly what information is currently provided, in what form and where. In other words a wayfinding audit that catalogues the location, content and design parameters of your existing signs.
This way that way fingerpost sign

Once your shiny new signs have been installed, you’d be forgiven for thinking you won’t have to worry about your wayfinding again for many years. And indeed, signs that have been fabricated and installed by a reputable manufacturer could last decades. However, although the material and structure can be long lived, the content, style and location of wayfinding information is likely to be much more fluid.  

Why Wayfinding Information Needs Regular Review

The places we spend time in or pass through rarely remain static for long. The configuration, purpose and how particular rooms and spaces are used tend to change with alarming regularity:

  • Retailers and tenants will come and go in shopping centres and offices.
  • Buildings are extended, or the internal layout altered.
  • New entrances, amenities or vertical circulation points are built.
  • Changes in the external environment alter visitor routes.
  • The brand and interiors are updated and refreshed.
  • Visitor expectations change and evolve.
  • Or people simply end up using a building in unexpected ways.

Taking a Whole System Rather than Incremental Approach

Rather than integrating changes within the existing wayfinding, there is a tendency to limit the focus to the affected area. So that information about new attractors or amenities only becomes apparent as you stumble across them. With the inevitable result that footfall fails to meet expectations and people struggle to find them. Or a separate layer of information, is implemented alongside the existing. Increasing the visual noise – and if the design or terminology deviates from the original style – introducing inconsistencies that can lead to confusion. 

Through many years of working in wayfinding, we’ve regularly encountered legacy schemes (sometimes several) still in place alongside more up to date information. Including many examples where signs point to destinations and routes that no longer exist and haven’t done for many years. Look around any large estate that’s been around for a while. Chances are you’ll see several design styles in evidence. These could range from subtle changes in colour, pictogram or font selections; through to a completely different design approach. There are likely to be differences in terminology, duplication or even out of date information. Which will impact on user confidence and trust in the information, with negative consequences for customer service and brand experience. 

Don't Install More Until You Know What You've Got

It doesn’t have to be like this. Often, it will be possible to use elements of existing sign structures in a refreshed scheme; update existing sign content to reflect current conditions; or communicate a new brand identity – without breaking the bank. Of course, new signage might be needed. But before committing to installing any new wayfinding signs, it is worth auditing what’s already in place, to confirm:

  • Locations for all existing sign types
  • Current content (destinations)
  • Font, pictograms styles and colourways

This analysis can then be used to pinpoint where information needs updating, plus any signs for removal or maintenance. Importantly it will ensure consistency in the information and design language across the estate and turn out to be cheaper in the long-term.

If wayfinding information requirements aren’t fully considered and integrated within a scheme, individual occupiers may take things into their own hands.

Establishing a Wayfinding Data Catalogue

With the increasing focus on sustainability, never before has reducing waste by reusing or repurposing what you’ve got, been more important. In much the same way that architectural plans for a development are carefully preserved for future reference, the same attention should be given to the wayfinding strategy and design.  

For existing estates about to embark on a refresh or extension, we recommend you audit your current wayfinding information. Understanding what’s already installed, will allow a more strategic and integrated approach to accommodating any changes.  In all likelihood, this will prove a much more cost-effective route than introducing another layer of information or implementing a hyperlocal solution.

For large estates – cataloguing the locations, state and content of all existing signs is no mean task. The shame is that most of this information will have been generated when the wayfinding scheme was first implemented. It will have been used to instruct the fabrication and installation of the original signs. It may not be in an ideal format and no doubt with the passage of time and changes in personnel may well be lost. So perhaps the final deliverable for any new wayfinding project should be a manual which confirms the font, nomenclature, colour references and pictogram designs, along with details of the content and location of all signs.

NB If you’re not sure how to go about the audit or indeed would like someone to do it for you – get in touch with The Velvet Principle