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How to Do Digital Wayfinding Right

The digital world and the physical world are becoming more and more integrated, and nowhere is that clearer than with interactive wayfinding. This is more than just putting some maps up on a screen. People today interact with visual information in a number of ways, and there are some simple but effective best practices you can follow during the design process to ensure your digital wayfinding is clean, clear and easy to use.

Digital designers are experts at UX and wayfinding design, and your organization is an expert on your facility. Meshing expertise from both groups with careful planning and open communications throughout the design process will ensure you get a wayfinding design to meet your goals and your audience’s expectations.

The creative team at Visix has designed hundreds of interactive wayfinding projects, and they’ve racked up lots of awards along the way. We asked them for advice for customers the wayfinding design process, and here’s what our experts said:

Make It Clear and Colorful

Don’t crowd your wayfinding design. Clean, simple designs are faster and easier for your visitors to comprehend. Speed of service is a main determiner in visitor satisfaction, so make it as effortless as possible for them to find their route. If you need to provide a lot of information, consider an interactive design with multiple “screens”, of which wayfinding can be just one. That way, people can sort and sift through the information they need at their own pace. But we suggest you put the wayfinding up front, so they don’t have to dig through a long navigation process to find it.

Think about color-coding maps. This is another way to make the wayfinding process faster and more memorable for visitors. Take inspiration from examples you’ve seen elsewhere, or use your brand identity colors, but always have a rationale. For example, maybe all the meeting rooms are one color, all the break rooms another. Don’t just do this to make it look nice, and don’t use a hundred colors – it needs to make sense and be useful to your audience. It also might be more cohesive if you match the actual colors in the building with the maps. So, if a particular area has green walls, make them green on the map as well. If you have printed wayfinding placards in addition to digital wayfinding, those color systems need to match.

Show Them the Way

Use visual paths. Route lines are often more effective than animated or static “you are here” and destination icons. If your facility is large enough to use digital wayfinding, then it’s likely that most routes are going to involve several steps. (In some cases, a person may have to change floors or even buildings.) With route lines, a person gets a full visualization of going from where there are (the display) all the way to their destination, instead of simply a dot in the distance that they then have to think about how to get to. You might also consider color-coding route lines – one color for walking, another for elevators, a third for driving, etc.

Standardize icons. You can still include start and endpoint icons in your design – every clear visual cue helps your audience. You should also include recognizable icons to mark other common destinations like restrooms, elevators and exits. Again, find the most common areas that people need to go and mark them on maps. If you’re not sure, set up an info or reception desk at your main entrance for a week, and note when people ask directions.

Meet ADA guidelines. Don’t forget to design in accessibility to meet ADA guidelines. This usually means having everything that’s touchable on the screen at the bottom (or duplicated in an ADA menu) for easy access. You might also consider other disabilities, like colorblindness, when choosing design elements and colors. Your design team should be able to make recommendations.

Plan and Verify Everything

Plan in detail. Figure out everything going into your wayfinding before starting the design process, down to the smallest detail. The only cost here is time, but you will save more time and money down the line by coming up with a cohesive strategy that works for your specific facility. You might even ask your designers for a checklist of things you need to prepare for your first meeting.

Verify maps. Often a marketing person gets a map from the facility manager, and then forwards that map on to the development team. Is the map accurate? Are rooms still actually numbered the way the map says they are? You have to make sure that the map you present to your audience is 100% accurate; otherwise, it’s not useful. Having to go in later and revise or update maps causes delays, and if your interactive wayfinding is being designed by an outside vendor, this will eat up at least one paid revision. (You usually only get a few before you are charged more.)

Walk in their shoes. Ensure your maps are accurate maps from the beginning by doing a walkthrough audit. Also, check to see if any construction or changes are planned in the near future. Remember that wayfinding is all about the visitor experience. So, if your wayfinding map says “Room 227” but the plaque outside the room says “Bubba Room”, you just caused confusion for your audience, which is the exact opposite thing your wayfinding system is trying to accomplish.

Dig into directories. Figure out if your maps will be tied into directories, like staff, departments, events or other lists, and verify their accuracy in advance. Think like a visitor and who or what they might be looking for, and determine the source of that information. Your designers will need to know how the data will be pulled into the design, how often you need to update it and how you want people to be able to sort it. There are lots of options, so build your wish list and start from there.

Help Designers Help You

Provide context. Where you place your interactive screens or kiosks is important for visitors, and it’s also important to the design team. Provide photos of where the displays will be located, with some shots of the surrounding area, most likely traffic routes and access points, and décor. All of this will help them design more effectively. Again, if you have a wayfinding system built into your environmental design, like placards, paint or carpet colors, or even lines on the floor, take photos of those elements for your design team.

Identify hot spots. If there’s a key location in a building or on campus, a place you think lots of people will regularly visit or linger at, really highlight it on your maps. Send a picture and quick notes about that location to your design team, so they can consider prioritizing it in the wayfinding design. This can end up helping your audience with orientation.

Leverage Mobiles

Offer SMS directions. With so many people using mobile devices every day, incorporating text messaging into your wayfinding might be a good idea. This helps visitors when they walk away from the screen to continue their wayfinding experience. With an option on screen to enter their phone number, people get turn-by-turn directions that guide them as they take the suggested path. There’s so much noise these days, something like this gives them a home base to refer to if they get distracted by something else along the way, helping them get back on track (literally). Text directions can also include route photos, so people can double-check where they are and where they’re going next.

Include QR codes. Another option is to include a QR tag on every page of your wayfinding design. If you build your design using HTML5, it can be hosted on the web or a server. Visitors can simply scan the QR code to be directed to an online version that is responsive to scale to their mobile screen size. That way, they have your wayfinding kiosk right in their hands, with all the features and functionality. Psychologically, it adds a sense of independence, adventure, discovery and satisfaction since they are guiding themselves using their own mobile.

Conclusion

When developing your digital signage wayfinding, always try to see it from the visitor’s perspective. It’s all about enhancing the user experience, and your facility and design teams should all work toward that goal. But remember, your design will only be as good as the information that goes into it, so avoid disappointment by encouraging open dialogue throughout the process. Gather as much information up front as possible, and get all stakeholder’s input, so you can make decisions and stick to them. This will speed the design process and produce a better product.

Think of it as spatial dogfooding – design an interactive wayfinding system that you would want to use yourself, and make the planning and design process one that you’d want to be a part of.

>>Download our infographic for 10 steps to building successful digital wayfinding.