Wayfinding to Empower Visitors + Boost Brand

When we reminisce on a visit, a trip, or any place-based experience, we often think of the time that we spent at the physical location. But a visitor’s wayfinding expedition often begins at home, perusing the website for their destination and getting the “lay of the land.” They may ask friends or family about the place in question, all in preparation for a visit that will – positively or negatively – color their perception of your brand.

As stewards of place, engaging your audience requires leading them along every touch point of their journey – from pre-visit planning, to their arrival and stay, and even the follow-up communication after they’ve left your place. These are the foundational elements of what we call the User Continuum – or the holistic brand journey a person has with your place before, during, and after their visit. It’s the lifeblood of your place-based reputation.

That’s not to say that all place-based experiences are alike – far from it. Nor is crafting a memorable brand experience as simple as installing a bunch of signs and then giving your audience a push toward the most highly trafficked destinations. In this article, we explore key considerations for using wayfinding and signage to reinforce and strengthen brand.

Setting expectations

Delivering on a promise is the #1 reason that people come to trust or appreciate a brand. Whether we notice it or not, we form expectations based on what a brand communicates through messaging, imagery, personality, etc. This doesn’t diminish the importance of on-site directional signage, but you can use wayfinding and signage to help fulfil your brand promise and meet (or exceed) your audiences’ expectations. Connecting brand to a larger wayfinding system gives otherwise generic signage an elevated purpose and enhances the experience.

For example, The University of West Georgia (UWG) had a unique situation where changes across their campus were not reflected between the online and the physical environments. When visitors used Google Maps to find a destination on campus, it directed them to the former main entrance (now a dead end), leaving visitors confused and frustrated. Furthermore, while buildings had street addresses, they were not included on the building signage. As part of our wayfinding recommendations, we encouraged UWG to update Google Maps and develop signage that included both the building name as well as the street address, so visitors could easily navigate by car or on foot to a specific campus building, linking online navigation to the physical signage. This not only bolsters the positive first impression gained online, but also added a crucial level of consistency to a visitor’s arrival process. Easy navigation sets the tone for the important “During” phase of the User Continuum, setting the stage (and the visitor’s mood) for a positive on-site experience.

Consistency is key

Any place-based entity should designate similar language to wayfinding signs to connect the dots of the User Continuum, limit audience frustration and give them peace of mind.

Hospitals, for instance, often add new wings or change the usage of different spaces, which means that they have to augment or change signage. When sign systems develop over time, they run the risk of compromising consistency and efficiency. It’s simply the reality for many places, but strong sign standards can mitigate these challenges.

For example, the ever-expanding Cleveland Clinic is always adding new wings, changing locations for departments or modifying a space, and as such, they add a lot of new signage. Continuous updates makes conditions ripe for inconsistency, and for the Cleveland Clinic, consistent nomenclature was causing confusion. For example, some facilities on the healthcare campus named the department “Radiology,” while others called it “X-ray” or “Imaging.” Guide Studio suggested choosing one name for this department and making it consistent across facilities, on both exterior and interior signage, as well as the website.

Embracing brand identity

Although most people won’t be posting glamor shots on Instagram of their latest hospital visit, an afternoon at the community park or date night in a lively downtown district may certainly make the cut. Happy visitors are further incentivized to return to a destination and will follow your brand on social media. Furthermore, if they have a positive experience, they may opt in to your email newsletter through which you can nurture that audience relationship directly.

So how exactly does wayfinding and signage support the User Continuum? In strictly functional terms, a sign system is a necessity of any public place, identifying a destination and the area where it’s located. Signage is also used to reinforce your brand and create the connection between your place and all that your brand stands for. It also showcases the personality of a brand and place. When starting a project, we consider a client’s historic, physical and cultural features, combining those essentials to create valuable physical touch points and a uniqueness of place.

Take the City of Kent, home to Kent State University and a growing, vibrant downtown. City leaders hired Guide Studio to develop a wayfinding program that directs visitors to various downtown locations. Keeping the client’s practical goals in mind, we designed signage that embraced the city’s brand identity under a common theme of “Kent Speaks” – an umbrella that both tells Kent’s story and also honors the college town’s reputation for being informed, outspoken, and open minded.

Resulting wayfinding signage capitalized on Kent’s eclectic personality with a nod to its historic industrial roots. A colorful wayfinding banner system tells the community’s story, guiding travelers through a downtown brimming with opportunities, restaurants and shops. On top of the usual navigational icons and messaging, the banners proudly tout district hot spots with messages such as “Shop ‘Til You Drop” and “Eat Yummy in Your Tummy Dining.”

Our design team also added good-humored signage to street polls, encouraging visitors to “High Five a Stranger.” Dogs get some love too with signs telling them to make sure their owner is on a leash. People-centric messaging, meanwhile, gently reminds owners to pick up their dog’s waste. The end result is a welcoming atmosphere and memorable brand that people will enjoy and tell others about.

For any place – whether it’s an industrial park, a venue, a city or a hospital – the visitor’s journey is a reflection on your brand. It’s not just about putting a logo on your homepage or a sign on your building; it’s about the expectation that your brand sets upfront and delivering on that promise both online and onsite.


Interested in telling your community’s story? We can help! Get in touch with us.

Design Consultant


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