By Marty Gregg, Principal, ArtHouse Design, Denver
Dating back to ancient empires and cultures, wayfinding historically helped the adventurous traveler navigate new and unmarked territories. Enhancing the user experience in today’s hot real estate market, wayfinding helps owners and managers of residential, commercial, industrial and land properties build their brand reputation—and save time and money.
What is wayfinding? To understand wayfinding, you have to start by defining branding. Branding is a combination of visual and verbal communication that distinctly identifies a company, product or service. A well-defined brand is the story of who you are, what you do and why you do it. In real estate, branding for the built environment also identifies landmarks: physical structures, locations and spaces.
Wayfinding helps you share your brand story. It supports, shapes and strengthens branding through signage, graphics and art to influence a person’s understanding of—and experience with—a physical environment.
Using images and messaging, wayfinding elements such as maps, directories, locators and room numbers inform people of their surrounding environment to help them get from where they are to where they want to be. Wayfinding creates a logical flow of information to welcome and guide people from the moment they arrive—across the street, at the gate, in the parking garage, through the front door—to the moment they leave your property. By providing information at strategic decision points along a path, such as lobbies, restrooms, corridors and elevators, wayfinding helps them move in the right direction with comfort and ease. People, particularly new visitors, customers and employees who are uninitiated, feel less confused, stressed and fatigued and more confident and secure throughout their journey on your property or in your building.
Like any good design project, successful wayfinding is comprehensive, consistent, clear and concise. A collective set of processes, behaviors and rules, a comprehensive wayfinding system should be aesthetically attractive and relevant yet thoughtfully functional and intuitive. For property or facility managers and building owners, wayfinding signage is often the first element that people interact with, making the earliest—and most important—impression of your brand.
The valuable benefits of wayfinding in real estate. From urban centers and transportation hubs to health care facilities and educational campuses to multifamily communities and retail shops, all residential, commercial, industrial and land properties can benefit from wayfinding. Wayfinding is ideal for new construction, remodels or additions, relocations, renovations, expansions and upgrades, particularly in busy, high-stress areas. If done well, a comprehensive wayfinding system helps you simplify complex, overwhelming and changing environments to improve the function of a space—and the experience of the user.
Wayfinding increases your brand presence and awareness to attract attention and interest. It directs people to your location and invites them to come inside. With interior and exterior signage, wayfinding makes your property, facility or building look and feel smart, well-established and efficient. And it provides information without using human resources, supporting customer service while improving business operations. Connecting people to places, wayfinding shows visitors that you care about their experience on your property.
Compared to many other needs of a large build-out, wayfinding can be relatively lower in cost yet high in yield.
6 Steps for Effective Wayfinding
You should be thinking about wayfinding long before the development site and architecture have taken shape. Ideally, you want to start working with an experiential graphic designer while your design-build project is being conceptualized and laid out. The following steps will help you work with designers to ensure wayfinding fully integrates with a new or existing space.
1. Kick off. A good designer should listen—a lot. You have been living with your project for years and probably have a deep understanding of the problems and challenges that a wayfinding system needs to solve. A successful, effective wayfinding system aligns with your grand vision of a project.
2. Strategize and plan. With a solid understanding of your goals, a good designer should break down the project and imagine it from a new user perspective. Analyzing the workflow and traffic flow, designers think about how people move around in and interact with a space to anticipate user needs and identify obstacles. At this point, they also should be considering city and owner regulations and restrictions to ensure the designs will be approved.
3. Concept and design. A good designer creates cost-effective solutions to overcome your problems and challenges, improve the user experience and build your brand reputation. With knowledge and skills in type, color, form, materials, mounting, lighting and more, a designer should be able to show you a variety of designs, options, samples, models and mockups, so you can get an accurate idea of the wayfinding system in its application. From sightlines and obstructions to language and culture to physical disabilities and visual impairments, designers consider a number of factors in creating signs that are easy for everyone to read and follow, even from far away and in motion.
4. Review and approve. In addition to your review and approval, wayfinding signage has to be approved by a municipal review board. A good designer packages your designs, presents the design intent to a municipal review board and negotiates with them for final approval. Following municipal codes and pushing design packages through approval are two of the most important steps in the design process.
5. Bid for pricing. To help you with budgeting, a designer works with a variety of contractors and sends out requests for proposal to collect initial pricing for design package fabrication and installation. Proposals should include samples, colors and materials, shop drawings, permits and scheduling. Allow up to three weeks for this step; otherwise, the bids you receive likely will have flaws that lead to bigger issues during the next step.
6. Fabricate and install. A good designer coordinates with fabricators and installers to ensure design intent is followed, down to the last sign type and location. Fabrication and installation takes eight to 12 weeks and can be completed all at once or in phases.
Final thoughts. Your best investment is to work with a full-service experiential graphic designer who is experienced with branding, marketing, signage and graphics. Not only do experiential graphic designers know sound design principles, building materials and manufacturing techniques, but also they are well practiced in human behavior and perception—the way people make decisions and move through a space. They can help you overcome time-consuming challenges such as budgeting and timelines and avoid costly mistakes from inexperience and miscommunication. And, they should have a proven capability of moving a sign package through municipality reviews to get your designs approved.
Originally published in CREJ’s April 2018 Property Management Quarterly.