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Wayfinding Project Process

If you’re about to procure or project manage a wayfinding project for the first time, this article will help you understand what to expect during the development process. Although there are likely to be variances between different practitioners, wayfinding projects typically pass through five stages. These broadly track the RIBA plan of work for architecture projects:

  • Audit and Strategy Development
  • Concept Design
  • Detailed Design
  • Procurement
  • Implementation

Audit and Strategy Development

This is the important on boarding stage where the wayfinding consultant will investigate the project objectives, requirements, constraints, and opportunities in detail. This will involve:

  • Meeting key members of the project team (such as the client, architect, wider design team and project manager).
  • Visiting site and exploring the wider environment.
  • Reviewing project documents e.g. architectural plans, brand guidance, footfall reports.

They may also undertake their own research, which in some instances could include observational studies, interviews, or surveys. The results will feed into the development of the wayfinding strategy and design brief.

Example of a sign location plan

The wayfinding strategy will identify where interventions are needed and make recommendations as to their nature (e.g.whether signs, lighting, architectural feature). The outcome will be a sign location plan; hierarchy and schedule summarising the number of different sign types required.

The design brief will pick up on cues within the architecture, brand narrative, positioning, or local context to provide the creative direction for the design of the wayfinding elements.

Diagram Left: Example of a sign location plan

Concept Design

Responding to the design brief, the consultant will explore a series of creative approaches with the project team. This is likely to involve several iterations before the preferred design approach is agreed.

NB There may a limit on the number of design iterations before additional fees are incurred. So, ideally key decision-makers should be involved throughout this stage.

Design Development/Detailed Design

During this stage, the preferred design route will be developed and applied to all sign types and graphic elements identified within the strategy. Typically this will involve defining things like:

  • Colour references, fonts, pictograms
  • Graphic Layouts
  • Materials
  • Any lighting and or data requirements
  • Components and manufacturing approach
  • Dimensions and fixing requirements.
Example of a sign design detailing drawing

Example of a design specification drawing for a totem sign

To help bring the design to life and test it meets accessibility requirements – samples, scale prints or prototypes are often commissioned at this point. During this stage the consultant is also likely to talk to potential fabricators to assist in defining the specification and obtain budget prices.

NB Advertising (Planning) Consent –installation of signs displaying information in the external environment, usually requires planning consent. In instances where a specialist planning manager is available, the information is passed to them to manage the application. If there isn’t a planning manager, (for example, if refreshing or adding additional signs to an existing signage system), the wayfinding consultant may be willing to apply on behalf of the property owner.

Tender and Procurement

The design specification along with the sign location plan and schedule, forms the basis of the tender package. The developer or building contractor may have their own preferred suppliers and will manage the process. If not, the wayfinding consultant can assist in identifying suitable manufacturers. The wayfinding consultant will usually support the procurement process – briefing candidates, responding to queries, and reviewing the technical aspects of the responses.

Note: For large wayfinding projects, the contract for the fabrication and installation of the signs tends to be with the developer or construction company. For smaller requirements, the wayfinding consultant may be willing to purchase signs on the client’s behalf.


Once appointed the wayfinding consultant will liaise with the fabricator to confirm requirements and review the engineering (shop) drawings. During this stage the final sign content will be confirmed so that the final artwork can be created.  Pre-production prototypes may also be commissioned for a final check. Often the wayfinding consultant (sometimes accompanied by the client) will visit the factory during early production, to iron out any last-minute queries. 

In most instances, the fabricator will liaise with the project manager or site team to schedule delivery and installation.  Depending on the scale and complexity, the wayfinding consultant may also attend at various times during installation process. When complete, or at an appropriate stage, the consultant will visit site to check that everything has been installed correctly. Any concerns will be summarised in a snagging report and the site revisited to review corrections.

It’s important to mention that the above covers a full end to end service. Although the full-service offer accounts for the majority of wayfinding consultancy commissions, there are occasions when only a subset of the five stages is required. For example, the developer or property owner may commission the strategy development and design stages directly and then handover responsibility for implementation to the main contractor. Or for budgetary or financial reasons the decision may be taken to proceed on a stage by stage basis.