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Still using the same boring easel signs to point your event attendees on their way? Add wow to your wayfinding by exploring a new direction in how you give event directions.
If you’re like me, you can spend a lot of time telling people where to go, and how to get there at events. In a nice way, of course! Event professionals know there is a fine art to wayfinding, or directing event participants. Good way-finding saves us from a plague of questions (and the frustrated attendees that can often accompany them): How do I get to the keynote? Where are the toilets? What’s the best way to get to my hotel?
Ideally, your event venue has good wayfinding infrastructure to help. But inevitably most of us rely on careful planning and placement of additional way-finders to help attendees get where they need to go easily and efficiently. This blog post explores different approaches to wayfinding that might give new direction to the way you share directions.
What is Wayfinding?
Simply put, wayfinding it is how people orient themselves to where they are so they can move from place to place. Traditional examples of wayfinding include signs and maps: things we use to find out how to get somewhere. However, today’s wayfinding may also include sophisticated technology, and even art. Ideally, your event venue has good wayfinding infrastructure. However many event planners supplement venue information with their own eye-catching and well-placed directionals to help attendees get where they need to go easily and efficiently.
There’s something reassuring about asking a real person for help. Way-finding ambassadors not only provide assistance with directions and information, they set a friendly, welcoming and approachable tone for your event. Add “Ask me” staff to key entry points and intersections of your event. Help them stand out in the crowd by using hats, t-shirts, flags or colorful umbrellas. Equip them with a handheld device pre-loaded with the event mobile app so they have the information they might need at their finger-tips.
Ambassadors help attendees navigate the JavaOne Conference. (Photo Credit: Shawna McKinley)
What if your wayfinding was as smart as you? Changing as your day changes to feature event program information and locations? Adjusting to suggest event activities near your location that match your attendee profile via your smart device? Wayfinding like this may be integrated into event mobile apps, or adaptable digital displays.
The Sound of Music
Can’t see where to go? Follow your ears by adding buskers, actors, acrobats or other entertainers to walking routes. This is particularly fun if your host destination has a distinct local music or performing arts style that you can feature. Musical wayfinding can also present an opportunity for sponsorship.
Visitors to an offsite reception at the Canadian Medical Association Annual Meeting in Halifax are guided by the traditional sounds of East Coast fiddling (Photo Credit: Shawna McKinley)
If your participants are active and mobile, consider wayfinding that incorporates a fitness challenge. This can be as simple as adding how many calories can be burned by walking to a function onto signs directing people to that function. Or better yet: combining GPS wayfinding, personal calorie burn and your event mobile app into a fitness challenge that could be sponsored and delivered via attendee’s hand-held devices.
Grab attention by adding artistic elements to wayfinding, like bold colours, unique textures, sculpture, or character mascots. Decorative blackboards and chalk can serve as a reusable way-finding canvas, and are a staple for wedding, reception and party events. A larger event could involve a local arts council in a temporary outdoor art gallery project such as a “Chalk Walk”, where artists create temporary works of art on a sidewalk, to promote flow of people between disconnected venues.
Temporary graffiti walls may be suitable for your event and once removed can be donated. Another idea (although controversial) is clean graffiti: where instead of painting the sidewalk, dirty sections are pressure-washed clean to reveal directions. Sculpture can also add unique visual interest to space, while creating an obvious landmark to look for. The Vancouver Convention Centre hosts public art that indirectly assists with wayfinding, making a meet-up by “The Digital Orca” or “The Drop” a natural.
A strong word of caution: check to make sure wayfinding art, especially in public areas, such as on sidewalks, walls and plazas, is legal before producing or installing.
Form and Function
Wayfinding can be reinforced where directional messages are incorporated into furnishings, in addition to signs. For example: a panel on a desk or seat that provides directional aids. This is particularly nice for an event with networking hubs and lounges. Look for inspiration in art galleries and museums, which often use this kind of multi-purpose signage.
I’m a big fan of biophilic design at events, so it’s no surprise I love to see signs that integrate natural wayfinding items like plants, sand and water. Examples can include hedged pathways or carpets made of grass which naturally funnel participants certain ways, and vertical gardens/living walls or sand gardens which can incorporate directional messages. This kind of signage is particularly effective indoors, where natural objects and textures stand out.
Temporary event wayfinding can be a wasteful process, particularly if signs or other materials are only used once and cannot be adapted to another venue. In these cases, opt for renewable and readily recyclable materials like creatively used cardboard for overhead signs or things like exhibit wayfinding. Avoid decals and difficult to recycle items like foam and vinyl.
Light the Way
Often used for branding and décor, projected symbols are ideal for wayfinding in crowded spaces. Consider this when you have a space with high walls and want to avoid large rigged installations that might be expensive. Projection such as this can be an ideal way to make the location of washrooms, food stations and coat checks stand out on walls or ceilings in large, open and crowded venues.
One of my favourite event sign projects combines a few of the elements already mentioned: fitness, art and natural materials into a format that is well-adapted to an urban environment. Seattle’s Design Festival created wayfinding signs that could be temporarily mounted on bike racks throughout their event neighbourhood. The contrast of natural fibres and bold colours highlighted routing and landmarks to look for, while encouraging access through means other than taxis.
Seattle Design Festival Urban Wayfinding signage (Photo Credit: Noah Jeppson)
How many song titles can you uncover when finding your way around this clever hotel in Berlin? Imagine the ways this idea could be used to orient people to your event space through things like book titles or local historical figures. It could also become a jumping off point for scavenger hunt-style games that encourage event attendees to fully explore a venue or destination.
Tips for Good Directions
Good wayfinding takes more than just putting up a sign with an arrow pointing “this way”. It’s also not a trivial creative art project: it must serve an important function. Keep these tips in mind when designing your wayfinding for success.
- Little bits of information are better. Laying out all your directions on one sign at the start of a journey may overwhelm participants. Parcel information out in chunks, adding a new direction each time they complete a leg of their journey.
- Don’t assume north is up. Most people orient themselves forward from where they are looking. Making it more helpful to present maps and route information so that what is “in front” is also “up top” on a map.
- Use colour to highlight landmarks. This will give people something to look for to know they are on the right path.
- Use a clear font that is easy to read from a distance, and contrasts well with surrounding information.
How will you know you’ve successfully found your way in the fine art of wayfinding? Hopefully through much less time spent answering questions that begin with: “How do I get to….?” Which means more productive time for you to ensure participants are fully enjoying your event experience!