Signage, literacy and wayfinding, part 2: Indoor signage and wayfinding

By Gordon Rugg

The words were at first indistinguishable, and then–with a tremendous start–I recognized something about them which filled me with icy fear…

From The Shunned House, by H.P. Lovecraft

In a previous article, I looked at nonverbal signage and wayfinding outdoors. Today’s article looks at the same topic, but focusing on indoors wayfinding.

I’ll begin this article with a discussion of a signage issue that’s a significant problem in most hospitals. I’ll then move on to look at different wayfinding strategies that people use, and at some ways of working with those strategies in indoors wayfinding and signage.

A classic problem, and some solutions

A standard feature of hospital signage is the Wall of Doubt. Here’s how it works. The visitor (the red oval marked “V” in the diagram below) has entered the hospital via the main entrance, en route to an appointment in the Wilson Ward, and is walking along the corridor in the direction indicated by the red arrow. So far, so good.

corridor1

Now the visitor meets a T junction, and sees something that for many visitors looks something like this: the dreaded Wall of Doubt. Which of these signs, if any, might be the one for Wilson Ward?

unfixed wall of doubt At this point, things start to go steadily but unnecessarily downhill. Why? That’s the topic of this article.

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Signage, literacy and wayfinding, part 1

By Gordon Rugg

Here’s what a typical piece of signage looks like to about 10% of the people visiting a public place such as a hospital or a school.

blackletter signage

About 10% of the population have significant reading difficulties. They might be able to figure out what a sign says, given enough time. They might not.

Here’s what a typical piece of signage looks like to another significant proportion of visitors.

grainy sign3

A lot of people have visual problems; this is particularly likely to be an issue in places like hospitals, which people with visual problems attend for treatment. Signage can also look like this to people with good eyesight if the lighting is poor or the weather is bad.

So what can you do about this problem? There are some simple, cheap solutions which aren’t as widely known as they should be. That’s the topic of this article.

banner Some classic types of landmark: Images from Wikimedia Commons

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