Sign Language

A wayfinding system links different people together, even if they do not share a common language or destination, by guiding all of them through the same spaces with a single system of communication. The unifying language of a wayfinding system creates a public narrative of how people witness, read, and experience a space. Each sign in a system, each separate voice, serves a particular function and displays a specific kind of content called a message, which might include nonverbal graphic symbols, images, or words.

– David Gibson, The Wayfinding Handbook

Most wayfinding systems can be broken down into several categories of signs: identification, directional, orientation, and regulatory.


Identification – the building blocks of wayfinding

  • Site monument identification
  • Site entry identification
  • Building mounted identification
  • Entrance identification
  • Parking area identification
  • Accessible parking identification

Directional – the circulatory system of wayfinding

  • Off-site trailblazers
  • On-site vehicular directional signs
  • Pedestrian directional signs

Regulatory – describes the do’s and don’ts of a place

  • Parking regulations
  • Entrance information



  • Store identification
  • Area/level identification
  • Public amenity identification
  • Service and maintenance identification
  • Office identification
  • Elevator and stair identification


  • Directional signs

Orientation – provides an overview of surroundings

  • Building directory
  • Elevator/floor directory


  • Fire egress maps
  • Life safety signs

The sign narrative is the voice of the building and its owner, revealing the pathways and destinations of the building or space, the rules that govern how to use it, and essential information about activities happening within. It is the job of the wayfinding designer to weave these voices together into a single eloquent statement as people navigate the space.

Wayfinding systems serve living environments where functions for areas change, spaces are renovated, and new facilities are constructed. Wayfinding systems must be flexible and adapt to the evolution of a place.

Information from this series of post this week has come from The Wayfinding Handbook by David Gibson. A concise and engaging work, it is an excellent resource for leaders wanting to apply the art and science of wayfinding to their organization. The extensive illustrations, using real-life examples, provide a visual analysis of the fundamentals that lead to great wayfinding design.

You may not think of yourself as a designer; you would be wrong.

Wayfinding design is an intuitive process we use all the time, one that helps us navigate the places and spaces we encounter every day. Leaders may not design a wayfinding system, but it is a process that they need to have a firm grasp on.


part of the 2013 GsD (Doctor of Guestology) journey


Where is your Red X?

In this case, literally.

The one that says “You Are Here.”

red x

Exciting the subway in the middle of a city or stepping off the elevator onto a strange floor is momentarily disorienting: you scan the space to figure out where you are and find clues that will lead you where you want to go. This scanning is similar to searching for an article in a magazine or perusing the home page of a website to figure out how it is organized and how to read a specific section.

All these reflex actions are about wayfinding.

 – Christopher Pullman, design consultant and senior critic at Yale University School of Art

Wayfinding pays a very important part in ChurchWorld – from the design of your website to the design of your graphic pieces to the design of your building (notice the common word – design.) If you are a ChurchWorld leader and don’t think you are or need to be a designer, I invite you to join me in a conversation that started here.

People will always need to know where they are, how to reach their destination, what is happening there, and how to exit.

Yesterday, I enjoyed spending some time with Zach and Benjamin from The Avenue Church in Waxahachie, TX – they were visiting Elevation Church’s Uptown campus. Zach is the Associate Connections Minister there, and he and I had some great conversations about Guest Experiences, specifically wayfinding.

Increasingly, my discussions with church leaders about Guest Experiences include the issue of wayfinding – most of the time in a physical sense of the spaces they are using, renovating, or preparing to build. Sometimes, it’s just a dreaming conversation, but even that is a great place to start!

For the next few days, I want to dive into the topic of wayfinding in ChurchWorld – I hope you will enjoy the journey!


part of the 2013 GsD (Doctor of Guestology) journey