The importance of wayfinding design

Jan 31, 2016

In 1999, as a very excited teenager learning the ultimate skills in graphic design to transform the world, a friend and I landed in Germany to have three months of study at the Bauhuas school in Weimar. The knowledge and discipline from the experience itself didn’t quite fulfill expectations but seemingly the fair reaching influences of the project of way finding was more important than we recognised at the time.



The topic of way finding sounds boring and when we started the project it was just that. From the choices we were given It just seemed the best option. Eventually, however, when taking things into our own hands and after a lack of direction from our tutor the project came alive. We started researching the history and influences that way finding has in today’s world which people identify with and yet seemingly this whole realm of design goes unnoticed.

Two big inspirations we found from our research was the creation of the London ungerground map by Harry Beck back in 1933. This beautifully simple design was first rejected as it was considered too radical but from the trial run it was discovered that it was exactly what the public needed. It ephasized locations like a circuit diagram with criss-crossing coloured lines. It has since been the inspiration of transport maps all over the world.

Above is a section of the current London underground map

The second big inspirational designer was Margaret Calvert. Around 1963 she worked along side Jock Kinneir and designed the national road signs in the uk which came soon after the new yellow and black Gatwick Airport signs. She not only designed the pictograms but the type face itself which is still used today.

One of many road signs created with Margeret Calverts concept

These are just two individuals who have shaped way finding into a nesessary and functional medium. I believe strongly that design in wayfinding effects us all today in many ways. As Design workplan explains the meaning of wayfinding as a stategy that provides a:

“natural network of information showing the right information at the right time and place.”

This is growing increasingly true when it comes to anything online. The rise of UX (user experience) and UI (user interface) design has its routes in wayfinding particularly when it comes to structuring, organization, and labeling of information. Adapting design to its simplist form is vital to portray the right message, generate sales and gain custom.

From evaluating the latest trends that websites are starting to use today it is now the experience of a journey with a direct minimal approach, displaying the right information that results in conversion. Something signage on the roads we drive on every day have done for so many years. Colour and clarity is key to reach the right destination.

Another similarity I see is dwell time. We can now track how long a person remains on our websites. This is another indication of whether we have given the correct information to the customer. If not they can be gone in seconds. Just as when we are on the roads and see a sign before a turning, if it wasn’t clear and put in the right place we will miss the turning or not complete the actions that may be required.

I know it sounds a bit geeky but this is exciting, why you may ask. Because this simply shows the importance of design in our every day lives. The road signs and the underground map that we would probably take for granted has actually been carefully put together with a lot of consideration. Every element such as colour coding and the typography have all been used to maximize efficiency all for our benefit.

Got any thoughts about this? If so leave your wisdom in the comments.

Graphic Designer

Hi, Simon here!

I am passionate about design helping businesses and individuals launch, re-brand and maintain their businesses with great design and resources.

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