10 Ways to Make Your Wayfinding More Effective

Michelle Lawrence Picture

by Michelle Lawrence | Last Updated: Mar 25, 2022

Cultivate an exceptional visitor experience for your guests. Discover how you can make the wayfinding experience more effective for your building, campus, or facility.

Leigh Hamer: Alright, good afternoon everybody, my name is Leigh Hamer. I am VP of Customer Experience here at Lumavate. And I'm very excited to be chatting with you today, we have a fun topic ahead and then the next 30 minutes, we are going to cover 10 ways to make your wayfinding more effective. As we go through this I thought it's helpful for you to just understand a little bit more about me, so I have gosh nearly 20 years of experience in marketing time flies, including running international PR doing a lot of communications work and really working with our clients today to consult with them on best practices regarding their applications and really focusing on driving results for them. Relative to this topic, I have worked in a number of industries, including running PR for a city art museum and wayfinding was definitely a key aspect of our communications strategy so I'll be pulling from that as well and sharing more with you on that, as we go through here today. Again, as we go through this please feel free to drop any questions that you might have into the chat or Q&A portion of the Zoom. I will take breaks throughout to check those and answer anything as we go through. Alright so let's dive right in.

So your role as wayfinding experts as those tasks with this arduous journey, for your organization's really what we're talking about for you is orchestrating all of these disparate areas of communication, so you likely have printed PDFs, you likely have done a lot with signage throughout your campus or your office building and then you're obviously conscious of the digital space.

So me as a user, I have a smartphone. I can activate Google maps, for example, and find directions from point A to Point B outside of all the work that you have done to create and curate signage that's thoughtful and give me maps. So what are we really talking about when we talk about orchestrating all of this? We're talking about unifying the physical and the digital space together. This is where we're going to go with all of the tips that we have, how do you really create an end user experience that is delightful and beneficial to your visitors or your guests.

And the reason that we are doing this is because really a thoughtful wayfinding system contributes to the sense of security and a sense of safety, which is really important. And I want you to think about what it's like to go to a new place, a new building a new doctor's office, maybe you're checking out a college, for example, put yourself in your visitors or your guests shoes and imagine the emotion that they have. Why is this important to create a sense of safety and security? For me, the number one emotion that comes up is stress right and we start to think about some of the things that we've heard from some of our clients when they use us to address their way finding needs. And it's because people are using this as a way to solve a greater problem.

They're trying to be successful in another area and wayfinding as a means to that. I don't want to be late for my job interview, I want to make a good impression. I have been invited to a special event at a campus that i've attended 100 times but suddenly there's construction and I can't figure out where to park this time, right ,and i'm very confused and now i'm stressed, and in that stressful moment, I’'m blaming everybody right and i'm getting lost and i'm not focusing on all the signage and everything else that you've put into place for me. So how do we blend and create a unified communication strategy of that physical and those digital to really create a delightful and a calming experience for your guests.

So now we're going to jump into 10 solutions that I have for you and I do strongly encourage that you ask questions as we go through our give us your feedback, I have just a handful of polls, as we go through, so we can get a pulse on where you guys are coming from your your stresses what you're dealing with so before we jump in what i'd love to understand is a little bit more about you guys i'm gonna launch a quick poll. I think it only has two questions just what you know how large is your campus? How many buildings are we talking about? Are we talking about numerous campuses with a lot of buildings and then maybe some of your biggest challenges? Some of the buckets that we've heard from our existing customers if you guys wouldn't mind just filling out that poll will that would help me guide some of these answers for you, better.

All right, give a few more people a chance. Alright last column and end the poll. Okay, so i'm gonna end it. So it looks like okay you guys have rather large campuses which is great! So some respondents said multiple campuses with numerous buildings and then more than six buildings. And then largest issues really are existing signage, facility layout, and then definitely getting guests feedback awesome. Thank you so much for that I can use that to help tailor some of this a little bit better for you.

Alright, so the number one suggestion that I have is start at the beginning, the first three that I have for you here today are really setting themes, so the first one is let's set a theme of just a smooth arrival process. So let's welcome this visitor even before they get their first foot onto your campus. So they can't find their way around if they can't find their way to you. So how are you adiding them in the driving directions? Are they taking a taxi, are they taking a subway system, what is their means to get to you how should they expect to get there, where should they park, where should they be dropped off? Those types of things will just ease the process. If you're, for example in New York City, you have to show an ID before going into a building so letting folks know what's going to be expected of them do we have to bring an ID? Is there paperwork to go into a doctor's visit, are you reminding me about something? And then the last one just umbrella the thought there is there anything else you can do to just ease that process.

If you have a large campus with a lot of buildings is it likely that their path is going to take them outside? If so, is it an inclement weather period where maybe you suggest they bring your snow boots or bring an umbrella so that way they can be thoughtful and again, reducing their stress oh it's unexpected I thought I was parking in a garage and then walking directly into a building now, I have to cross the quad, for example. Just giving them those tips will make them feel more welcomed and secure in their experience. And keeping in mind that that experience does begin before they ever stepped on campus or onto your built into your building.

So thinking about ways that you can engage them that likely already fit into your communications plan. So a doctor's visit is a great example right. I get texts and emails from my doctor's office letting me know and reminding me about my upcoming appointments asking me to confirm those appointments. That's a great opportunity for them to reengage me and remind me where to park, let me know about any construction changes. Certainly, let me know about their masks policies right anything that I need to understand, before going there so I’m come in and i'm prepared again reducing my stress.

And with that the really the next theme is treat every visit like it's a first visit. So going back to the example of the doctor's office, maybe I go to my doctor every month or I go back to my alma mater every month for different events I might be very familiar with these campuses but, if something changes right, we have either construction could be happening or different entrances might be closed at different hours, whatever the case, might be, even though I might be familiar, treating me like this visit is the first time, is going to ensure that I don't get confused and I get very clear communication about any changes that I need to be aware of.

So I just like to keep in mind that routes change and memories fade right. Oh, I thought that this is where I was supposed to park. Oh gosh I haven't been here in six months, I was relying on my memory. Right, so let's just give them some information ahead of time that can come in the form of text messages emails. You can also send out mailers on, especially if you know their address right and any other personal information about them and what they can bring or do to make that experience better.

And then be consistent, so this is really the third theme. So we're going to talk about an ideal state right and i'm sure none of you work in an ideal state. But the ideal state is that you can have consistency between that digital and that physical space so both the names and the language that you use and the iconography. 

Now I worked for actually, the St Louis art museum and we were a Beaux-Arts style building built during the 1904,  World's Fair so whining corridors and additions were the name of the game right less than optimal paths. There was a lot of internal naming and references to different areas. Then we put on a very modern edition tried to be more thoughtful about wayfinding when we did that, but it certainly creates a lot of meandering for doors and confusing pads for our guests so really had to overcome that. 

You know if you work in a hospital or a certainly a university campus you're likely having additions put on. Hopefully they're thoughtful but sometimes you might just have to work within the construct that you have. So how do you make sure that, for example, signage can match hopefully that's something that's well within your control. And avoiding those inside terms.

For example, you know at a school most business schools are referred to as the B school and then they typically also have some kind of name on them right somebody who is granted money or gifted the school and has their name on that building, and so the shorthand might be to reference it by its given name or call it the B school…making sure that the signs are very clear, both in what I’m going to see in the physical space and anything in a digital property.

So that way if the digital property or to give me let's say that it says the Danfourth school, but then the building says Business School in the real world, how do I match those two so that's what I mean by consistency here.

And then, selecting recognizable icons so this certainly lowers the stress for folks that are in a rush. A great way is, OK follow the green signs and now that you to the Business School right that's really easy for me. Iconography also helps with multilingual guess. Identifying obviously bathrooms and other things it's just it makes it a little bit easier for them to overcome any of those hurdles that might be present in the signage.

Continuing the theme of signage I wanted to show you an example of where you can upgrade your signage and how by simplifying it, you can drastically improve a user's experience and lower their stress so for any of you who have ever been to New York City or a large city and you've tried to park, you may have seen a sign that looks like this it's incredibly stressful. Imagine you're trying to park there's taxis whipping by there's messenger bites and you're trying to read this behemoth and figure out what day is it, what time is it, where do I fall, how do I do I park, what do I do?  It's incredibly confusing in a stressful environment.

So what they did is they went through a process of simplifying it, I think this is a phenomenal example of how they took what they had and they just improved upon it. So they simplified it for the users, they understood that there's a commercial vehicle user and then there is, you know, myself and i'm just in my residential car. Now I can quickly identify through the numbers, how many hours i'm allowed to park. What days and what hours within those days it again just simplifies it. 

So think about where throughout your signage you have maybe anything that is confusing, how can you simplify it for your users and maybe segment your users as part of that, like what they did here. We have commercial and then we have residential private citizens. What kind of guests, you have and what needs and unique circumstances do you need to address with your signage. 

The next thing is get outside feedback so when you're redoing your signage asked other folks what their experience has been, capture that information, it'll likely point you to some solutions and identify some massive gaps that maybe you and your team had failed to identify. And the same thing goes for temporary signage. So update visitors on significant changes and try to maintain your temporary signage in a consistent theme with your permanent signage it'll help again limit confusion. Now temporary signage can certainly have call outs that maybe is an orange and just signaling that this is a construction area, please pardon the dust kind of thing. And so it can pop, but it should fit within your iconography and the rest of the consistency that you're trying to create with your signage.

All right, I don't see any questions so I'm going to keep chugging along.

Alright experience your visitor experience your campus pardon me from your visitors point of view. So walk a mile how are you going to identify the issues with your signage if you haven't experienced it. You guys likely know where most visitors travel so throughout your campus do they arrive in the main lobby and where are they heading, what are the most common destinations, is there a cafe, is there a school is there a you know, a surgery suite whatever it might be, and you know those are the hot places and times of day that those routes are regularly traveled. 

Walk a mile in your user shoes and understand not only what the route entails and how confusing signage might be what are they carrying with them how equipped, are they to make that kind of navigation and then also what time of day are they doing it?  Are they doing it when there's also a massive other people so signage might be very clear at 8pm at night. Right and the halls are clear and you're walking through, but now imagine it with a crush of other folks can you still see those signs, maybe you need to raise signs up over six feet or so, so that way visitors can see them when there's a large amount of people walking down the hallway, for example.

So, keeping those things in mind as you're walking through will enable you to identify additional issues and, obviously, looking for accessibility. Considering the paths and we'll talk more about your paths and how you can improve them in one of the other tips. But here it's sufficient to say be considerate about somebody who is in a wheelchair, for example, or has limited mobility. Are there alternate paths that you should create right, it might not be the most expedient path, but it is the smoothest path. Right so considering those things in the directions and in the wayfinding options that you provide to your guest.

Now, I do have a quick poll here, I would like to just know if you guys have ever actually done this, where you asked your guys are asked your team members to walk a mile in your shoes, so if you wouldn't mind, let me know, yes, or no i'm curious to know. Oh wow you guys are…lovely you a lot of you have done this so awesome you understand. Looks like we got everybody.

That's wonderful that you guys have done this. I'm curious you know if you want to drop anything in the chat how helpful that has been maybe some others on this webinar today will find some tips from you as you've gone through that that exercise what you've learned.

Alright, so let's define a simple paths. So we've talked about signage, let's walk a mile, now that we have all of that, how do we simplify this path for our visitors? Please be Google maps not Waze right everybody hates that person who cuts through the neighborhood shortcuts aren't better and you need to focus on routes that really identify clear landmarks and orientation cues. It's going again to lessen the stress and the confusion of your visitors.

That might be seven different ways we'll stick with the B School example. There might be seven different ways to get there. Right, you can cut through all these buildings and then navigate there and you'll you'll really dodge the crowds. Okay, but is that, like going up a meandering path and downstairs and cutting through back hallways is that really confusing? 

Versus allowing a user and understanding okay, if you cut straight across the quad and make a right you're going to get to the main entrance right. And then also thinking like I talked about accessibility, a couple of paths so maybe crossing the quad is not the most conducive for those in wheelchairs so maybe there is an alternate route that you would advise for them. Providing both to users and letting them know the difference between an exterior past so hey we're going to take you outside maybe it's a miserable snowy rainy day versus you there's an alternate path that will keep you indoors.

That empowers the user to make a decision that best suits their needs and their timeframe, perhaps too. All right, don't see any questions we'll keep going along so internal cooperation.

I am hopeful that you guys have great relationships throughout your organization, but likely you're not able to do your job alone with just your team there's likely an element of cross functional collaboration happening so what I want to know and I'm going to ask a question about how you feel.

So when it comes to being notified about necessary wayfinding changes so let's just use construction as an example, or some entrance is going to be closed for a period of time for some reason right. Do you feel like you, are mostly proactive, or do you feel like you're mostly reactive and I'm going to launch this and what I mean by that is, are you getting information at the last minute and they're asking you to quickly spin up new signage or hey, by the way this is happening tomorrow or next week and you have to act very reactively versus being a part of the conversation understanding the options and getting ahead and having that time to create the temporary signage.

Awesome. Thank you so much. Okay, so it looks like the vast majority of you, unfortunately, have to be reactive i'm sure that causes a lot of stress for you.

So what I would say in those situations, whether you're proactive or reactive establishing a flow of getting those notifications, obviously, is critical. And then, on your side, whether you have to be reactive or proactive creating an update checklist. So if you are reactive you're likely trying to work as fast as you can against this deadline that you didn't have any ownership and setting right and that's incredibly stressful. But coming up with that checklist so that way you feel confident you have followed your best practices. Okay, I need a temporary signage all right, we need to make sure that it falls into this kind of consistency, where are we pointing folks. What other assets, do we need to update to indicate that the main entrance is going to be closed for three weeks or that this garage is under maintenance, for example. So I think just keeping that checklist will ensure that you feel confident in how you execute and roll out changes to your way finding strategy.

And then, once you make those changes, make sure you go back through and walk a mile and perhaps what I might suggest for those of us on this call, who feel more reactive than proactive, invite your colleagues who created that timeline. Right and sometimes perhaps there was no option, perhaps the city decided that they're going to close the street and they didn't tell you, and so you feel reactive because of that, but if there is an internal stakeholder and team member that you feel like if you could build a stronger relationship and get notified when they find out, rather than waiting, however much time, invite them to walk a mile with you invite them to experience what problems you're trying to solve, so maybe they can understand and through that process explain to them the options that you would have had had you had maybe a week or two more to properly plan and execute said change doing finding. 

Eight, personalize your experience. I absolutely hate the you are here signs at the mall. They give me PTSD. I cannot figure out what that what they mean truthfully i'm here Okay, how do I get to Sephora? Where is it is it behind me? Which way? And it's confusing and it's not personalized to me. I'm standing in front of something that I know is intended for everyone else around me and everyone else around me is not trying to go to the same place, that I am. And I'm very special right and that's how your guests are feeling, but I want to be taken care of I want my stress address, I want to get to where I need to go quickly.

So, think about what your guests have on them likely, the vast majority, if not all of them have a smartphone. So how do you leverage that to deliver a personalized experience at a scalable rate, so what I mean by that is perhaps you do have massive maps and way finding signage but can you have an activation for an APP that gives them context to where they are I scan something it knows that I’m in front of the that business school. And so, then it says great I know where you are where do you want to go, I want to relax my car here, this is where I want to go and it says great you need to go straight and turn right. that's personalized for me that lessens my stress it can show me turn by turn directions that's the kind of personalization that I reference here. And, rather than trying to serve many people in a in a very obvious way so let's guide them and, again, keeping in mind ways to lessen their stress.

Okay, nine. So get feedback after everything i've just shared with you consider the ways that you can hear from your guests and your visitors. Now, when they give you feedback, I will say take it with a grain of salt right likely what they're going to identify for you is a problem. They're telling you some of the symptoms it's your job to root out the true cause of it. Walking a mile in their shoes will certainly start to affirm some of their frustrations rate or identify where there are gaps in signage and maybe. You know you literally come to a fork in the road and this decision point has zero signage yep that's a gap, we need to address that that feedback could identify that for you. And request suggestions from folks and then back to that feeling of you being reactive, I would say use this as an opportunity to show what guests are asking for. Right to build that camaraderie and that collaboration throughout the entire system of However, your wayfinding notifications come through, how do you get notified of some of those changes. Build consensus among those folks that this is what we need to do to improve the visitor experience. All right, and then demonstrating that your have an iterative approach to wayfinding will allow for smaller changes to be made over time, rather than trying to do one massive lift to everything that you have okay.

All right, and the very last tip that I have, and I just love this, this is a library, that is in Vancouver, Washington and they're using their space. In a way, that I found just kind of comprehensive everything that i'm talking about here today. Identifying what visitors want, I want to know where your fiction or nonfiction or your children's section is how easy is this children okay great I go to floor one fiction, I need to go to four three. It simplifies my experience it's a welcoming guests centric environment and certainly it creates this wonderful delightful tone that i'm sure goes throughout their entire facility. So thinking about what your people what your guests want and how can you deliver it to them with the construct that you are given right, knowing that you're not gonna start tearing down walls and building your ideal situation of a facility, how do you work with what you have to set that tone with consistent signage right that internal cooperation with your team members to make sure that everything flows smoothly again to all less than stress, for your guests.

Alright, so those are my 10 tips and perfect timing, we have just a few minutes left if anyone has any questions, I invite you to pop them in to our Q&A or into the chat. Thanks guys Michelle we have anything?

Michelle Lawrence: So yeah well, thank you Leigh you've got a couple questions here we can go through, but the first one is so let's say you do have a mobile experience for your wayfinding efforts. In your experience what are some good locations that people can put these activation methods around their building.

Leigh Hamer: Oh great question, so I would say, identify the point of decision and the points of welcome, so what I mean by that is certainly where you are going to be parking or entering a facility is a great way. But, keeping in mind that the experience starts before they ever get to your campus right, so how can you invite people to activate the app or. Let them know that there is an app ahead of time.So in any mailers or email communication that might be going out to them, just to even raise awareness, even if they don't activate it at home, can it raise the awareness that when they get there, this is going to be an option for them.

And then certainly like within a garage within a lobby, but then also throughout so if you know that your dining hall, for example, is a great gathering place and it's likely a paid place where people. Make a decision about where to go that can be a place where you can put table top 10s on tables and things like that so, then I can find my way, maybe not back to the car, but maybe over to you know the library or another section of the campus that I hadn't explored before and now because you've given me this self guided tour I can go explore with confidence, good question.

Michelle Lawrence: Awesome I love what you said about you know sending out the activation that the beforehand i'm someone that loves to be prepared and so that would be right up my alley but. we've got another question here and it's kind of based on the theme of your your idea of collecting feedback, so how often would you recommend making updates based on the feedback that you get from the surveys.

Leigh Hamer: Yeah good question so I like I said take feedback with a grain of salt right it's not that you get one suggestion card and you immediately start changing all your iconography because one person was confused, but rather take that as an indicator right and then I would say, look at all the data, over time, are a lot of people complaining about iconography are a lot of people complaining about inconsistency and and i'm i'm obviously creating themes I don't know that your. Your guests will use those terms, but if you start to theme, some of the feedback you'll start to identify what is maybe at the root of the problem. And then from that is there anything else, that you can parse about those visitors so.

You know, are you do, you know that this this feedback came from non English speaking visitors is that something you need to address, like our way finding doesn't address our Mandarin guests and that's a large pain point because we have a large population. For example, so that's where i'd say identify themes look at it holistically. But do attempt an iterative approach and I personally am not afraid of testing things out in a way that isn't going to cause too much pain for people but give it a chance right maybe there is something there. With trying something small out in the actual environment great question anything else.

Michelle Lawrence: It looks like we've got maybe one more and it's based on the theme of how many steps should be. So in your experienc is there kind of a threshold if there's you know, maybe too many steps in your way finding experience to to little steps, especially if you have a like a mobile experience.

Leigh Hamer: Yeah how many links to the Center right, so we want to get visitors. From point A to Point B as quickly but as efficiently as possible to so like I said the quickest route might be the most confusing don't be Waze don't cut through the neighborhood and you know that's not the nice way to go and it's super confusing to folks. But you know if we think about a college campus if from let's just say from one end to the other is a 30 minute walk it's a 30 minute walk you're not going to suddenly collapse time and make that go faster. So how can you identify a route that shows off the campus maybe the best and is the simplest route. Again, you might create a couple of routes, one that goes indoors one that goes outdoors again for intimate weather considering accessibility all of that. But how can you make sure that it is the fewest steps along the way, but also the most direct route right again lowering their stress, not making them feel like where, am I going habit, you know, hopefully, and then guiding them with physical signage and those. Obviously embarks as well, great questions guys.

Michelle Lawrence: Awesome Thank you Leigh. Well that's all the other questions we have time for today.

Leigh Hamer: Alright, well, thank you all for your time and we do have a quick survey at the end, I hope, you'll take, and thanks all for joining us.

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