The Future of Wayfinding

Posted on Jul 11, 2013

The future of wayfinding might be a bit difficult to predict; however, identifying the current expectations, challenges, and current technological advances today provides an insight into what we can expect in the next decade and beyond.

Looking Back At Wayfinding

In 1960, Kevin Lynch coined the term wayfinding, which he defined as “the elements of the built environment that allow us to navigate successfully through complex spaces like cities and towns.” In trying to predict the future of wayfinding, the four core components of wayfinding: Orientation, Route Decisions, Mental Mapping, and Closure might not change, but the resources and structures to build an effective and modern wayfinding system will definitely change.

Signage innovations are only one aspect of today’s complete sign solution. Illiteracy, language barriers, and people’s desire for verbal guidance have prompted  industry professionals to develop new, updated solutions.

Current expectations for the use of additional resources and modern technology will also influence future innovations. Current trends are shaping the future of wayfinding, including:

  • Providing hand-held maps for key destinations and translation services for language issues;
  • Providing clearly defined instructions from the end-user to the customer via website and verbal instructions via phone service on directions for appointments;
  • Building easily changing systems for the end-user to stay up-to-date with all relocations that take place.

Using Updated Universal Symbols

As society’s acceptance of people’s disabilities continues to evolve, new symbols will reflect this forward-thinking society. Creating signage using universal symbols provides a shortcut for common information that all people can easily understand. One example spearheaded by a professor at Gordon College in Massachusetts, is a new, ADA-approved “handicapped” symbol that presents an active, in-motion version of life with a physical disability, rather than a static person in a wheelchair. Designer Sara Hendren and co-creator Brendon Hildreth hope to change people’s perceptions of people who use wheelchairs with this more active sign.

future of wayfinding

In the future, other universal symbols could be updated to reflect our diverse society.

Using Mobile Technology to Create Wayfinding Solutions

Cities will build technology to monitor and connect public transportation in real-time for any given route or destination. QR codes can be scanned at any bus stop to display arrival times on a smartphone. This makes public transport easier to use and less confusing. The increased use of smartphones and other mobile devices will impact the end-users’ expectations for updated and accurate directions.  New systems like these were showcased at InnoTrans 2012 and are already in operation.

Using Interactive Real-Time Wayfinding Fixtures

While color-coded directional signage might be a current staple in today’s wayfinding products, BREAKFAST, a digital wayfinding company, has developed a novel and futuristic wayfinding solution for yesterday’s fixtures. This interactive, real-time wayfinding directional sign claims to be “the most advanced intelligent directional sign on Earth.” The “Points” system features three directional signs with LEDs to provide updated and relevant display information throughout the day and night.

The Points sign can be used with any online data source like transportation APIs, and local RSS feeds. It can even pull user-content from social media sites like Foursquare and Twitter to help customize the experience for each person.

Future signage will incorporate new technology knowing that people will continue to use social media at increased rates to find popular spots of interest.

Look for many new technology innovations to be implemented in the near future to help people better understand their surroundings with more effective wayfinding systems.

What innovations in wayfinding do you expect to find in the future?

Richard Cameron, President, is a founding partner of Sign System Solutions with over 18 years of sales and project management experience in the sign industry. Contact Richard at:

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