Mar 26, 2019

Everybody’s seen examples of signage gone wrong.  Sometimes these “signage fails” are funny, like the sign that reads NO SIGNS. In other cases, though, signage fails are irritating or even dangerous. In contrast, a road sign reading “BRIDGE OUT IN 50 MILES” is not at all funny when it should read “…50 YARDS”. Tourists, especially foreigners, visiting Florida often comment on the many signage fails they observe here. Wayfaring signage gone wild!.



Signage meant to direct people from here to there is directional. Directional signs are one element of wayfinding signage. A directional sign often has one or more arrows in it. Informational signs back these up with information about the route or destination. For example, a directional road sign might read “Anytown 3 mi.” with an arrow pointing to the right. An informational sign below it might then read “Stay In 2 Right Lanes For Anytown”. Together the two signs tell a motorist how to reach Anytown, and where he or she is in relation to Anytown. They answer the basic wayfinding questions. Firstly, where am I? Secondly, which way to my destination?



What makes great wayfinding signage? There are obvious criteria like good visibility and useful placement. Signage won’t help much if people in motion can’t see it or can’t read it. Or don’t see it in time to make use of it. Those are all-too-common signage fails.

Equally important is the informational content of directional signs. Familiar with the expression “too much information”? It applies to wayfaring, too. Wayfaring signs shouldn’t present too much information or too many choices. By the same token, insufficient information is a fail. A wayfaring signage presentation should tell a person in motion just enough to form a mental model of the space. A mind-picture of the way to go.

Researchers have studied the science and psychology of wayfinding pretty intensely. This Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) document presents Design Principles for Wayfinding. Perhaps not surprisingly, the principles are well known to GraphPlex designers. To be sure, we don’t think or talk in such abstract, scientific language as MIT researchers do. The essence of our thinking, however, is basically the same. In fact, when one of our associates finished reading and digesting the MIT paper, the reaction was “Heck, we could have told them all that!”



That knowledge and experience guide our work in wayfaring signage from conception through design and fabrication, to installation. Most municipal and institutional wayfaring signage is a system. All the elements have to work together. That’s why a client that engages GraphPlex for a  project can be confident of getting signage that shows the way.

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