Observations during the 2011 Tsunami disaster in Japan showed that the colour of signage matters a lot. A short research paper outlines the colours and colour combinations that are easily seen and interpreted quickly by people who have one of the colour blindness conditions. The result is colour combinations for everyone.
The results of this study and other colour studies are reflected in the Japanese standards for the paint, printing and design industries. The colour scheme-set contains 20 colours and is divided into groups depending on whether things are small scale or large scale. Bright pink turned out to be a colour for large signage. For more on the colours go to the Open Journal of Social Science and download the five page article, “Color Barrier Free Displays in Disaster Situations”.
Airlines are working to improve accessibility, but airports also need to step up. People with disability are making regular complaints, and older people are likely to just give up travelling by air. Not good for the travel industry or tourism. So a well researched guide is welcome in this space. Wayfinding is far more than just good signage – it starts with the whole building design. In airports it’s about the customer experience and promoting independent travel. That’s regardless of age or ability.
Enhancing Airport Wayfinding for Aging Travelers and Persons with Disabilities is a comprehensive guide for wayfinding professionals, signage designers, and interior designers. It is published by the US Transportation Research Board’s Airport Cooperative Research Program. It comes with a checklist that emphasises community consultation as part of their universal design approach to wayfinding. The detailed guide also has a companion PowerPoint presentation that covers the key elements with lots of pictures. The presentation is 15MB and is downloadable from the main webpage and is a good way to get across the key points. There are eight chapters in the guide:
Understanding the needs of aging travelers and passengers with disability
Wayfinding strategies via visual, verbal and virtual communication
Airport planning and design consideration
Departing customer journey
Arriving customer journey
Connecting customer journey
Wayfinding technologies for aging travelers and persons with disability
To achieve the overall objective of helping aging travelers and persons with disabilities to travel independently, an airport has to consider more than just helping these customers know where to go.
Wayfinding requires designers to organise and communicate the relationships of space in the environment. Basically, it is the naming and marking of places, identifying destinations, and providing directional information. The Cooperative Research Centre for Construction Innovation produced a comprehensive, if somewhat technical, set of wayfinding design guidelines.
The guidelines 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.
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.
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.
Editor’s Note: I’ve come across a designer or two who consider signs and signage an imposition on their design and try to minimise their use or placement. This picture shows how one designer thought that disguising signage was a good idea. Architectural wayfinding strategies minimise the need for lots of signs.