Defined as the cognitive process of navigating areas, wayfinding is critical to a building user’s experience. Done successfully, wayfinding makes a building user feel empowered and energized moving through a space by promoting a sense of accomplishment and comfort. If wayfinding fails, the user may feel alienated and confused which, at the least, can lead to losing business, or, at its worst, inadvertently put the user in a physically or cognitively harmful situation. The most successful strategies are considered early in the design process. Whether planning a new building or the renovation of an existing one, the sooner wayfinding is included in the process the more integrated it can be in the design.

DesignGroup, an architectural firm with offices in Columbus, OH, and Pittsburgh, PA works with clients to include wayfinding early in the design process, encouraging key decisions so this becomes integral to the architecture and interior design, thereby promoting a natural or easy-feeling experience as a person travels through the facility.

The key to success starts with collaboration among disciplines to help create a fully integrated wayfinding concept. Planners provide big box concepts, programmatic experience, and adjacencies. Architects provide building and site spatial recognition points, while maintaining exterior views, spaces, and materials. And interior designers, provide the overall feeling and experience, paths, and movement along with the human aspect.

When interior designers are left out of the planning stages, it often creates a dissonance in a comprehensive wayfinding concept. Not only are interior designers able to visualize interior spaces, but the relationship from exterior spaces and the travel path from entrances. These travel paths begin to form key guiding principles for larger wayfinding concepts—signage and graphic opportunities, landmarks, places of respite and assistance, to more minute design opportunities—the use of color, light and texture, creating a consistent theme that seamlessly leads a person from point A to point B.

Conscious and intuitive wayfinding is most successful when integrated early in the design process.

Conscious and intuitive wayfinding is most successful when integrated early in the design process.

When wayfinding design occurs retroactively, it often feels applied, is less durable, and often requires more upkeep. If not properly maintained, poor wayfinding can lend to misinterpretation, and in healthcare design, can make or break a facility.


Well-designed wayfinding at the office not only helps people find their way into a building and to a particular space, it is often rooted in the brand story and provides a cultural lens into what distinguishes that business and what drives it to success. It is important to showcase differentiators, aiding in the attraction and retention of customers, clients, and employees. In a well-designed space, the wayfinding experience is multipurpose, moving users through a space, giving clients a sense of what they can expect from the business, and giving talent recruits a sense of what it is like to work there.

Leading EDJE, a custom software company recently came to DesignGroup to create a new office space—one that showcases an anti-corporate, pro-person culture with an emphasis on client hospitality and team collaboration. The resulting floor plan emphasized two primary spaces—the entry and the collaboration hub—for a culturally immersive experience and allowing the interstitial architecture to assist in the wayfinding throughout the space. The experience of moving through the space it is one of ease and cultural discovery, putting the focus on people and opportunities for collaboration.


Successful wayfinding in healthcare design begins with a click. In the 21st Century patients have access to websites and social media that begin to inform their decision to travel to a specific facility. The feel and look of the organization’s website, peer reviews, and in-network providers are the first glimpse into how easy or difficult their experience will be at the site.

Healthcare wayfinding tends to fit into two categories: Conscious and Intuitive. Conscious wayfinding is more literal; using dedicated signage, floor patterns, or color-by-floor/department. Intuitive wayfinding creates a natural flow that patients cognitively recognize without realizing; the use of a texture or specialty finish at elevators accentuating vertical circulation, a strong ceiling element that draws the patient to a specific location or the use of the same material at staff desks throughout the facility to reinforce “this is where help is.” A well-executed wayfinding approach marries the two.

A prominent healthcare network in Columbus, OH has created both literal and intuitive branding and wayfinding opportunities, which carries the design principles not only in the form of a large standards document but throughout each facility. Patterns incorporated into signage bridges the gap from the website to the parking lot and continues as graphics once inside. Colorful flooring creates literal paths leading to a destination, while dedicated floor patterns stop people at each staff zone or decision point. The tactile and interactive moments in key focal areas create focused, cognitive experiences and orient patients and families within the large complex.

Wayfinding has a bigger impact on spatial experience now more than ever, and because of this is it even more critical to include early in the design process creating a fully integrated project delivery. These wayfinding techniques apply in all markets, not just workplace and healthcare. At a minimum, a building should be designed for flexibility in future fit-outs. This allows for not only for flexible use of space but for incorporating literal and intuitive types of wayfinding, as well as allowing for integration of seemingly temporary wayfinding requirements, such as those imposed by the current pandemic.

SOURCE: By Nikki Wildman, AIA, LEED AP BD+C and Sarah Eversman, NCIDQ, IIDA

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