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6 Ways to Do Branded Wayfinding Right

A brand is what people feel about who you are and what you offer. Wayfinding is any information system that guides people through a physical environment and enhances their experience and understanding of that space. Branded wayfinding is the science and the art of bringing these two disciplines together.

Branded wayfinding gets people where they need to go while making your environment a destination where people want to go. Doing it well communicates the culture and values that make your business, facility, or community special, and it attracts people to live in, work in, or visit the space.

Here’s how to get started.

1. Identify your goals early.

Every branded wayfinding system needs to effectively get users to their destinations while reinforcing the property’s brand. But you might also be facing challenges like solving long-standing usability issues or integrating new additions into the system. Whatever you’re looking to achieve, have a plan in place to make it happen—and a way to measure success when you’re done.

If you’re working with an existing system, it can be tempting to solve any problems with more signs. But it’s best to assess how the system is performing right now and how people are using it. A problem is usually solved with fewer signs, not more. And you might just find that the problem isn’t what you thought it was.

So check in with your users and watch their behaviours, and the answer to the problem should be clear.

If you don’t have a system in place yet, don’t worry! That just means you have a blank slate to work with. Start by taking a look at what similar spaces are doing, both well and not so well. Then think about how you want people to move through your space and what they might need at key decision-making points.

If you can anticipate that accurately and respond to user needs, you shouldn’t have any trouble at all.

2. Plan ahead.

Now that you know what you want to achieve, it’s time to decide how you’re going to do it. The purpose of branded wayfinding is to create a positive experience that users associate with your brand.

When the user feels good about the space and the way they move through it, those good feelings will transfer over to your brand. If they get lost or confused trying to find their destination, though, it’s hard to overcome those negative emotions.

Plan for a good experience by considering all the different types of signage you’ll need in the space. Will you need regulatory signs? Parking information? Directions to the bathrooms? Compile a complete list so you know what users will need from your wayfinding.

It’s also important to make sure the space’s layout is finalized before you start planning. After all, the signs can only do their job if they accurately represent their environment.

A floor plan with numbers marking where signs should be placed

Next, map out where each sign type will be placed in the space. Each sign should work with those around it and be placed at crucial points where users need information about what to do next.

At this point you should also think about what each sign will say. Messaging should clearly tell users what to do next and sound like part of your brand. Consider the different types of users, too, including everything from age to language to ability level.

3. Let your creative flag fly.

Your sign system should make a statement about the place it describes, and it can do that by matching up with your brand guide. You can incorporate your logo, brand colours, imagery, and other elements into your signage so that the property aligns with your brand.

At this point you can identify how the system will be built, too. You might need a custom system, or you might be able to reduce costs by using something pre-designed. Either way, choose long-lasting materials that will make a good first impression for years to come, especially if your system will see a lot of use.

You should also think about what’ll be most cost-effective to produce once you reach the manufacturing stage. Often you can find something that has a similar look or size to the initial design but comes with a much lower price tag.

A wall with a mural graphic with a large 4 and an orange background of a cityscape

4. Plan for the future.

Wayfinding systems work best when they’re designed as part of a larger plan. The trouble is, if that plan isn’t available to everyone who might need it, your system will change over time as it grows and evolves. The information about your system needs to live in one place where people can easily refer to it over time. This will give you the tools to continue offering a cohesive experience.

pages from a sign system guide that shows different types of signs and the specifications for recreating and maintaining them.

Create a guide for yourself that outlines how signs should look, how they should be made, where they should be placed, and how often they should be updated.

Make sure to include every part of the system. That means your logos, icons, decals, colour palette, typeface, paint swatches and brands, application requirements, mounting height specifications, and any other details that will help keep your system consistent over time.

5. Get your signs done professionally.

Don’t DIY your sign manufacturing and installation, unless you happen to specialize in it.

The manufacturer and installer will conduct their own site surveys to make sure your project is using the right applications and materials, and they’ll make sure your project is designed and engineered to meet or exceed expectations. Manufacturers and installers also know the ins and outs of municipal signage bylaws, which will streamline the process of getting permits.

Shop around until you find a contractor who can produce or install the sign types you need to your exact specifications within a reasonable timeline and budget. Make sure to check the gallery on their website to see the kind of work they’ve done in the past.

It’s also a good idea to ask the company about the work they’ve done before and check it out in person. It’s always comforting when you’ve seen the sign before and it’s still standing.

Material samples of different texture and colours arranged in a grid

Most manufacturers offer production checks at key milestones so you can review and make sure the work aligns with your vision. Some do trial runs, too, so you can see and touch the different design elements before they’re produced on a larger scale. A professional manufacturer or installer will also offer a warranty on their work to protect your investment.

Simply put, getting the pros to do it is always a good idea.

6. Keep your system current and in good order.

Your signs are the first impression that many people will get of your company or environment. They’re a major investment in your image, so one of the most cost-effective things you can do is maintenance. This ensures your system remains just as effective as the day it was first installed.

It’s a good idea to have a maintenance schedule in place to ensure your system is being evaluated on a regular basis. Signs experience wear and tear over time, especially if they’re placed outdoors or in high-traffic areas, and they need to be maintained and reconditioned every so often. A bent, scratched, graffitied, or damaged sign sends out the wrong message before the user even reads it.

A glass sign mounted on a brick wall above a set of stairs in a public place.

Your messaging may need to change, too. This is especially true if the space is evolving and the signs no longer reflect what’s there. Some tenants or stakeholders may also want signs of their own to accomplish their own goals.

If it’s not carefully managed, you can end up with too many signs with and too many conflicting messages. Make sure to build on the philosophy of your initial plan by finding the best way to make the different messages work together.

By putting signs in the places where they’re needed, you make visitors less anxious and more confident that they’re in the right place. By branding those signs, you transfer those positive feelings to your business or organization. Branded wayfinding is powerful. And with these guidelines, you can make it work for you.

Interested in learning more about branded wayfinding? Talk to us and find out what we can create together.


Chris Beauchemin

As Habit’s environmental design director, Chris specializes in using environmental design and wayfinding to solve a problem.

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