Unlost and Found - Wayfinding as Brand

Creating Value for Smart Cities

Savannah, Georgia, knows that wayfinding is more than just helping people not get lost. It’s also about reinforcing a sense of place and connecting visitors with the city’s unique collection of assets. But how does wayfinding work when there is no existing “sense of place,” such as in rural North Carolina? MERJE principal John Bosiosays wayfinding can drive identity, shape place, and build brand value. He’ll share his perspective April 23 at the SEGD Wayfinding Workshopin San Francisco. Find him there!

With its historic architecture, pedestrian-friendly urban design, and emerald tree canopy, Savannah is a popular tourist destination in the American South. Tourists flock to its historic district, beach, and riverfront entertainment district—and the comprehensive wayfinding system developed by MERJE (West Chester, Pa.) was designed to help visitors get there. Over a multiple-phase implementation, the Savannah tourism bureau’s goals are to connect visitors with parking, transportation options, and attractions in the historic district, says John Bosio, MERJE principal. 

“This is a case where there is already a strong sense of place, and we’re leveraging wayfinding tools and processes to help people connect with the place,” says Bosio. “Our focus is on making it easier to park and making sure people are aware of different forms of transportation and where the visitor centers are. This project came out of a transportation study, so it's more focused on using wayfinding to help people move around the city. Once we get people to parking and transportation, the focus is very much on pedestrian movement, because Savannah is very pedestrian-focused. The design aesthetic of the system is more about fitting into the context of the environment, rather than establishing an identity for the city."

Like most MERJE’s projects, the emphasis is not just on getting people from Point A to Point B, but interpreting, curating, and promoting the existing assets of the community.

But what happens when a community is just beginning to build its identity and assets? What can wayfinding do for these nascent destinations?

Yadkin Valley, just a few hundred miles away from Savannah in rural northwest North Carolina, is not exactly a household word for most tourists. That’s why four counties decided to pool their resources to create a collective identity and market the charms of the region.

In this case, the client created four placemaking/branding tools: the GoYadkinValley.com website, which highlights attractions such as 35 wineries, outdoor activities, and arts and culture; an associated mobile app; printed brochures available at the counties’ visitor centers; and wayfinding signage. MERJE was brought in to develop a wayfinding system and oversee the development of the other elements, including an identity created by local firm Design One and the app by Discover Anywhere Mobile. The Yadkin Valley logo was also added to highway signs, helping to build the brand.

“It’s not a typical wayfinding project because of the fact that the region is so rural,” explains Bosio. “There is no one arrival point; there are many. So the digital tools are ways to help people connect initially, and when they get there, maps, highway signs, and eventually, more wayfinding signage will get them to their final destinations."

He continues, “The client was very smart in realizing all of these tools should be developed as a single package, where graphic and informational continuity could be created between them. It was a holistic approach from the very start.”

MERJE coordinated the multi-disciplinary design team, ensuring that all graphic components are consistent so that the Yadkin Valley brand grows and thrives. Signage implementation is being phased in strategically, and in addition to the digital elements, so far includes the highway signs and banners. Kiosks at the visitor centers are currently in production. 

“This is a situation where wayfinding is a key component of actually building the brand and the sense of place, rather than just connecting people to an existing place,” Bosio notes. “It’s a much different approach, but another example of how powerful wayfinding can be as an economic development tool.”

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