Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Finding your wayfinding

OK, it's like this: I prefer signs to "signage." Like "footprint," "signage" is a term of urban planning (the planning of the "built environment") that has crept into everyday life. I guess it's supposed to mean a system of signs, a way of finding your way around. But wait: evidently it isn't enough to have signage. Now we need "wayfinding."

The Chapel Hill "streetscape" committee tells us the downtown needs "'way-finding' signage."

No doubt it does need something. On my first trip down here from points north, almost 20 years ago, I ended up at the UNC Hospital complex rather than downtown on the main campus as I intended. That's because the sign at the point where you veer off 15-501 to the right to get on Franklin Street said "Downtown." It didn't say UNC. (The first sign mentioning UNC was at Manning Drive, which is why I ended up at the hospitals.) I don't think the situation has changed. Signage would have been nice, but I would have settled for a decent sign.

But this wayfinding thing goes beyond signage. In fact, wayfinding is not signage. A concept that's been around since 1960, it encompasses much more than signs. To create successful "wayfinding," you need to

  • Clearly identify arrival points.
  • Provide convenient parking and accessible walkways located adjacent to each public entry.
  • Locate information desks within each public entry visible from the front door.
  • Place elevator lobbies so they can be seen upon entering the building.
  • Use consistent lighting, floor coverings and architectural finishes in primary public corridor systems.
  • Situate memorable landmarks along corridors and at key decision points.
  • Design public waiting areas that are visually open to corridors.
  • Distinguish public from non-public corridors by using varied finishes, colors and lighting
  • Harmonize floor numbers between connecting buildings.

All of which would be good for for our downtown Chapel Hill development and streetscape projects--no matter what you call it.

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