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Digital Signage: How Visual Cues Help With Wayfinding

by SUMMIT on October 6th, 2015

Digital Signage How Visual Cues Help With Wayfinding

Wayfinding is a combination art and science, the goal of which is to help people find their way through any man-made space.

Consider a few examples: How do you know the route to take to get through a museum? What about an airport, an underground pedestrian pathway, or even a business or a college campus? Ideally, you figure it out through signs, maps, and other visual cues.

The visual component is essential to wayfinding. After all, fully two thirds of people are visual learners. That means the best way to help usher people through a space isn’t through words, but through visual imagery.

As Haig Kouyoumdjian, Ph.D., wrote in Psychology Today:

“A large body of research indicates that visual cues help us to better retrieve and remember information. The research outcomes on visual learning make complete sense when you consider that our brain is mainly an image processor (much of our sensory cortex is devoted to vision), not a word processor. In fact, the part of the brain used to process words is quite small in comparison to the part that processes visual images.”

Overcoming Language Barriers

Using visual cues and certain icons are how experts in wayfinding take advantage of our visual nature to help us get from point A to point B. It’s also how any of us is able to find a restroom (and the right restroom at that), even when we travel internationally and have to deal with language barriers. Wayfinding helps us spot a subway sign on a crowded New York City street. Or recognize a hospital (we all know what that big H means). Wayfinding also has helped international visitors make their way through the expansive grounds for numerous Olympic events—imagine how many different cultures and languages must be overcome with effective visual cues at such a massive international event!

Understanding the visual nature of effective wayfinding is also why many expansive parking lots and other structures will use visual cues instead of letter and numbers—it’s far easier to remember that you’re parked in the “leaf” or “star” lot than it is to remember 2F or 8D.

When wayfinding is done well, we hardly think about it. We have an instinctive and intuitive cognitive map that helps us make our way efficiently through a space. That cognitive map is then supported through visual cues we see while we make our way.

Modern Wayfinding in a Digital World

While icons and visual cues are essential, static signage can at times be insufficient. For certain environments, the varied uses make permanent and unchanging signs ineffective. Two perfect examples of this type of varied use environments: Hotels and conference centers.

In any given period, certain segments of the facility may be in use by different users who have different needs in terms of making their way through the space. Increasingly, digital signage is the solution.

With digital signage, maps, directions, iconography, and other visual cues can be updated to fit the exact needs of a particular situation in an eye-catching display. Concurrent events can have customized maps, each color-coded or otherwise visually identified to grab the eye of a particular audience. Language that supports the visual cues can be used and updated, and different languages can be used for different groups of users.

The flexibility of digital signage, and the ease with which it can be integrated with static wayfinding efforts, are both major contributors to the increasing popularity of digital signage.

Next time you’re in a new space, pay careful attention to how you navigate it. Think about all of the ways—both subtle and overt—that traffic is directed. You might be surprised when you discover how many visual cues you actually use.

photo credit: Berlin Hauptbahnhof, signage via photopin (license)

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