3. Strategy: How to Put the Right Sign in the Right Place

Person passing by a hidden sign
A guest contribution by Patrick Eley and Alan Stevenson.

When you’re devising a wayfinding scheme, it’s the strategic framework upfront that plays the most crucial role of all: putting the right sign in the right place. After all, locating signs isn’t as simple as plotting them, installing them and assuming they’ll do their job.

To do that, we need to understand two things well: people and place. People refers to how the users of an environment navigate space – you can find more on that in our previous post.

As for understanding place, we need a deep understanding of the environment in which each sign sits. That means understanding the macro, which includes things like the circulation routes of the building and how signage interacts with the flow of people, as well as the micro. We need to understand the ergonomics of a place: what people can see, what obstructions may stand in their way and how light levels can impact the legibility of a sign.

Once we understand the place, we can start to think about the signs themselves. Broadly speaking, signage can be categorised into two types: signs that direct you towards a destination and signs that announce that you’ve arrived.

Of course, it’s more complex than that. There are welcome signs, directory signs, signs pointing to the nearest toilet, and signs that don’t necessarily serve a navigational function but exist to help you learn more about a place with descriptive, historical or natural history content. Like all signage, these help you understand a place.


Contributed by Patrick Eley and Alan Stevenson from DNCO an introduction to Chapter 3 of their new book Straight Forward: How Wayfinding Works and Why Strategy Matters.

Order your copy here.