Signalling the right way to go has to account for cognitive abilities, visual acuity, and spatial awareness. As people age some of these abilities decline. Consequently, considering the needs of this group in wayfinding design will make wayfinding easier for everyone. Mishler and Neider have identified five key points and explain them in detail in their article. They are:
- Distinctiveness: the information should have cues that are informative to the route and can be distinguished from the surroundings.
- Consistency and standardisation: information overload can be avoided with the consistent placement, size, colour and shape of signage.
- Simplicity: limiting each sign to three or four units of information, because people tend to glance rather than read, and avoid visual clutter.
- Isolation: keep the signs away from other visual clutter to help focus attention in the right place.
- Reassurance: letting people know they are still on the correct route especially if the destination is a long way from the directional sign.
The title of the article is, “Improving Wayfinding for Older Users with Selective Attention Deficits”, in Ergonomics in Design. Here is part of their conclusion:
“Because maps and other layout information may not be easy for older adults to use, providing environmental support through wayfinding signage might be the best way to mitigate these difficulties. However, visual selective attention, which is needed to find and read a sign, declines in old age, which makes it particularly important to adhere strictly to certain guidelines for signage design.
Adhering closely to the principles of distinctiveness, consistency and standardization, simplicity, isolation, and reassurance should help not only to improve wayfinding performance for all users but also to reduce the performance gap between older and younger users.
Providing age-inclusive signage could help to maintain high mobility in older adults, prevent them from becoming isolated from their communities, and therefore help to avoid the mental and physical health issues that tend to be comorbid with age-related isolation. Age-inclusive signage design is therefore an increasingly important topic in an aging population.”
Wayfinding requires designers to organise and communicate the dynamic relationships of space and the environment. Basically, it requires the naming and marking of places, identifying destinations, and providing directional information. The Cooperative Research Centre for Construction Innovation has produced a comprehensive, if somewhat technical, set of guidelines for wayfinding.
The guide covers basic principles, and very detailed design solutions and strategies, covering topics such as arrival point, main entry, internal arrival point, graphic communication, restrooms and toilets, lifts, and signage design. Sign legibility, system design criteria, and viewing distance to signs are all covered, plus much more. Wayfinding is a key element of accessibility for everyone. Making signs and systems universally designed for everyone requires additional thought and planning.
AS 1428.4.2 Wayfinding Standard, is expected to be published very soon.
Placement and design of signs are things we don’t notice until we can’t find them or find them misleading or indecipherable. In some cases they can cause serious accidents, let alone wasted time or just plain confusion and inconvenience. One problem seems to be that the people who erect signs actually know where they are and have no thought for newcomers to the area or building. They just know they have to put certain signs on particular things, for example toilets. But putting them on the door alone only tells you that you have found them, not how to find them. Fortunately wayfinding and signage design has become a skill in its own right and specialist consultants are being used more frequently. The Slate Website link to The Secret Language of Signs tells the story of how a bus was misdirected and the result was seven people killed. It also links to the other articles on signs and signage, including Legible London, and the Japanese designer who is responsible for beginning the trend to icons that can be understood regardless of language.
The Wayfinding Systems and Audit checklist provides guidance for designing wayfinding systems. Included is the application of tactile ground surface indicators (TGSI), signage and graphic communication, auditory communication, maps and more. Although it was published in 2007, most of the information still holds. New thoughts are entering discussions for improvements, for example, how dappled shade in outdoor areas may be confusing for some people. However, it is a good guide for getting started in this area which entails a mix of Australian Standards, thoughtful design, and end user convenience. Wayfinding is often an afterthought applied to designs instead of being integragted into the design process in the early stages. (The cognitive equivalent of the tacked on ramp?).
The Wayfinding Design Guidelines handbook is also available and provides more detailed information.
Published by the CRC for Construction Innovation, supported by the Queensland Government. The CRC came to an end in 2009.