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Directions: Finding The Way

Written by Heidi Schwartz. Posted in Magazine, Special Reports

Published on February 09, 2005 with No Comments

By Dan Kidwell
Published in the February 2005 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

While getting from one area to another in a familiar facility isintuitive, it’s not always obvious to visitors. Frequently, they needguidance on the campus, through a hospital, or industrial park.



Wayfinding is the presentation of structured information needed toallow users to navigate an environment or seek a particulardestination. It is especially important to visitors new to the buildingor campus.

While some facilities managers believe that signs with directionalarrows might be adequate to guide visitors, professionals in the fieldof visual communications disagree. Wayfinding is more than just signageor a laundry list of destinations. It’s about shaping the environmentand progressively revealing the spaces through which visitors navigate.

Wayfinding is a holistic system developed through an understandingof human cognition-how people think, process, and make decisions. Inaddition to signage, identification elements include the organizationof space into functional nodes or zones, the grouping of directionalinformation in logical layers, the use of flooring materials such ascarpeting or tile, and the choice of wall coverings and paint.

Whether visitors to the facility are students or some otherclientele, how easily they get around affects their first and finalimpressions of the facility. Because of the effect it has on customers,wayfinding’s focus should be on creating a system which is easy tonavigate and presents the most positive impression possible.


Working Together

The choices made by the facility manager and marketing departmentshould be expressions of brand messages that marketing has developed.Brand is the promise made to visitors that must be kept consistentlywhile they have contact with an organization, especially while theyvisit.

The marketing department, therefore, has a vested interest in thedesign and implementation of wayfinding systems. Brand identity must beassured and cannot be undercut by physical elements that specificallycontradict brand messages.

For instance, it would not be appropriate for a pediatric hospitalwith a friendly brand identity to have an authoritarian atmosphere.Engraved metal plaques listing physicians or marble corridors leadingto high mahogany admissions desks would undermine the brand identity.

A better choice would be hallways marked with bright, primary colorsto guide visitors to the proper areas. Some signs positioned on achild’s eye level and thickly padded carpeting in waiting rooms wouldsupport the brand message rather than dilute it.

For a facility manager who has been charged with developing a new orrevised wayfinding system, the best route to take is side by side withthe marketing department. By including marketing in the decision makingprocess, it is easy to retain brand identity.

There may be occasional conflicts. Facility managers and marketingdepartment staff may not always see eye to eye because of theirdiffering perspectives. On the one hand, marketing personnel deal withthe intangible, emotional aspects of the brand. On the other, facilitymanagers deal with the tangible-brick, mortar, roofs, and carpets.

A facility manager may not consider brand on a day to day basis likethe marketing department, but that does not mean it should beneglected. The focus may instead be on the needs of the employee andvisitor: comfort, safety, or entertainment. Marketing focuses on theoverall experience.

Real Life Cooperation

A balance can be reached. For instance, when it came time to renovate awayfinding system for the campus shared by Lorain County CommunityCollege and the Great Lakes Technology Park, compromise was essential.The facility manager-who was an architect with concerns aboutaesthetics as well as functionality-worked closely with the marketingdepartment to consider a system that effectively reflected thecollege’s brand.

One concern of the marketing department was to foster a sense ofcommunity and welcome for those who visited. Meanwhile, the facilitymanager was concerned about the flow of traffic onto campus. Thisconcern was addressed with freestanding brick signage with layereddirective information to keep vehicular traffic to the communitycenters travelling on the right path.

Both the facility manager and the marketing team agreed that a positiveexperience for campus visitors was vital. Functionality was enhanced bycolor coding areas which differentiated the college from the technologypark and the park from the community service buildings. College brandelements were included as well. The colors selected for the wayfindingsystem were specifically chosen because they matched the school colors.

A collaboration between two groups with little in common can bedifficult. But if facility managers and marketing staff understand bothpoints of view and cooperate, the result will be a wayfinding systemwhich will please both parties. By being conscious of the brand and theneeds of the facility, the marketing department and facility managementwill leave visitors with a positive impression of the organization.

Kidwell is head of visual communcatoins at Design Center, a Columbus, OH-based firm specialzing in brand, deisgn, and business solutions.

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About Heidi Schwartz

Heidi Schwartz

Schwartz joined Group C Media in April 1989 as managing editor of Today's Facility Manager (TFM) magazine (formerly Business Interiors) where she was subsequently promoted to editor/co-publisher of the monthly trade magazine for facility management professionals. In September 2012, she took over the newly created position of internet director for TFM's parent company, Group C Media, where she is charged with developing content and creating online strategies for TFM and its sister publication, Business Facilities. Schwartz can be reached at

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