People get lost. Wayfinding fixes that by guiding people through a physical environment. Wayfinding is particularly important in complex environments such as urban centers, healthcare and educational campuses, and transportation facilities, like airports. It is knowing where you are in a building or an environment, and finding your desired destination, and knowing how to get there from your present location.

Wayfinding is used in the context of architecture to refer to the experience of orientation and choosing a route within the existing environment. Wayfinding problems occur when decisions cannot be executed, because the user does not have enough information to decide his or her course.

Users may become so frustrated with the environment that they will not return. The visitor must be able to successfully move from the present location to a final destination, even if the location of the destination is only vaguely known. To begin, a person must know their present location. Then, the person must know whether a route to his or her destination can be found. Finally, a person must be able to learn their way as they go.  

Once in an environment, the visitor will ask “Where am I?'' The visitor needs to know his or her starting point, before proceeding. “Am I in the main lobby or the side entrance?”

Then, the visitor can make correct navigational decisions that will take him or her from his present location to a destination that fulfills the purpose of the visit. As an example, the visitor needs to know whether to continue along the present route, or what turn to take at an intersection. Wayfinding is spatial problem solving.

To make wayfinding successful, every location in a navigable space needs a unique identity, so that the visitor can associate the immediate surroundings with a location in the larger-scale space. Once on their journey, a visitor should have a well-structured path, which is continuous and has a clear beginning, middle, and end when viewed in each direction. The visitor should be able to confirm progress and distance to the destination at any point. And a visitor should be able to know which direction he or she is moving along the path by its directionality.

Zones assist wayfinding by providing another set of cues for identifying a location. A zone should have defining features within that area, and present a way of identifying a location as being in a certain zone, maybe by using different color markers in particular zones. When the visitor goes from one area into another, the different colors inform him or her that the visitor has entered another zone.

The standards for effective wayfinding starts by creating an identity at each location, different from all others. The paths should be well defined through zones using deferent visual identifiers in each zone and direction choices should be limited. The area should be designed so that every route the visitor might take is not confusing. Watch out for “you can go this way, or you can go that way” type directions.

While physical signage still dominates wayfinding, indoor navigation has never been so fast and simple with software driven mobile wayfinding. This software has basic functions, such as search and maps, just like kiosks. A visitor’s location is detected and the software assists in locating the best route to a destination.  A visitor can check out a location and information at anytime and anywhere.

Unlike signage, mobile wayfinding software enables a way to communicate with a visitor by placing text or banner advertisements with a map or directions.

Wayfinding software integrates scheduling applications and location based services to improve employee efficiency and timeliness by providing time-to-destination notifications on mobile devices.

People being late for meetings has always been a problem for businesses. Now, meeting attendees are notified, based on their location and travel time to the meeting, as to when they have to leave for the meeting. Then, by using digital wayfinding applications on their smart phones, employees receive turn-by-turn navigation to assist them in navigating complex campuses, so that they will arrive at meetings less stressed and on time.

Navigation technology is an expected tool when traveling via GPS, and now, indoor navigation has become a required tool for many large buildings. Using Jibestream’s NovoMap technologies, the user’s position can be identified to within a few feet, using a combination of Wi-Fi signals and integrated location-aware sensors. This allows interactive indoor maps to provide users with a greater dimensional awareness and to illustrate not only where to change direction, but also where to change floors and access elevators, escalators and stairs.

Wayfinding software also allows employees to share their on-site location with colleagues, making it easy to arrange a meeting on the spur of the moment. By tying in to scheduling systems, employees can be notified about company events; the time of the event; and provide navigation to the event.

Finding your way around a hospital can be stressful, but this can be eliminated by an indoor positioning app from companies like Wifarer. Patients get seamless navigation both inside and between buildings, so they can find their way around any hospital complex effortlessly.

Visitors can search for a clinic and get directions straight there, making for fewer missed appointments; and patient rooms will be easier to find. Visitors can browse for information about restaurants, gift stores, and other amenities that will make hospital visits more pleasant. Wheelchair users will get accessible routing to get where they need to go.

Unlike fixed signs, it is easier to make changes to keep the app up to date when clinics move or office hours change. The new information appears instantly when the app is launched.

Universities across the country are incorporating wayfinding, not only for students, faculty, and staff, but also for campus visitors. On a multipurpose campus, visitors need good instructions on how to approach the campus, where to park once on the campus and where to enter the right facility depending on their specific destination.

There are mobile tour and map apps currently focusing on college campuses and their surrounding areas. They allow users to take GPS enabled physical tours while on-campus. Campus visitors can find a location by searching for a building or landmark names, such as Victory Hall, or by keywords, such as dorms. Users can then take on-campus tours with automatic in-depth information and in-app navigation.

Visitors can easily see related information that is pertinent to their location, instead of getting inundated with unnecessary information. If students can't make it onto campus, all the tour information can be accessed virtually with easy navigation between stops, full 360 panorama images, and the same in-depth content.

There are wayfinding mobile programs for the visually impaired, for seniors with memory problems, for pedestrians in a new city, and zoo visitors. Wayfinding will be of extreme importance to the mobility of robots now and in the future. Wayfinding is now a part of our life, taking the guess work out of where we are; and how do we get where we are going. Men will no longer have to stop and ask directions although they never did in the first place.


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Len Calderone – Contributing Editor

Len contributes to this publication on a regular basis. Past articles can be found with an Article Search and his profile on our Associates Page

He also writes short stores that always have a surprise ending. These can be found at


Len Calderone