Are Wayfinding and Directional Signage The Same Thing?

Wayfinding signs and directional signs help people safely navigate a space.

Think about the last time you were in a store or at an event. You probably notice multiple signs, pointing you toward different booths, the bathrooms, and the exits. These are considered wayfinding and directional signage.

Wayfinding and directional signage may seem like they serve similar purposes, but understanding the how and where to use each are important for creating an intuitive, easy-to-navigate environment. Equally important is the type of graphic you choose and the wayfinding signage design. Let’s break down the key differences and best uses for wayfinding and directional signs.

What’s the Difference Between Wayfinding & Directional Signs?

Even when you’re familiar with a space, it’s still good to have signs that tell you where to go. Directional signs are actually considered a type of wayfinding sign, along with informational, identification, and regulatory. Both wayfinding signs and directional signs have a distinct function.

Wayfinding signs are comprehensive systems that offer an overall impression of an area, building, or space. They’re sort of like the table of contents of a book, providing a general outline of where things are located. Types of creative wayfinding signs include graphics like maps, informational wall plaques, or stands and displays.

On the other hand, directional signage is more like the chapter headings (or the H2s of this blog), guiding visitors (and readers) from point A to point B. They are specific and to the point. You may notice directional signs with arrows or large format graphics with precise instructions for navigating the area. Together direction and wayfinding signs work as an integrated system, helping travelers, shoppers, or attendees know exactly where they need to go.

Best Use of Wayfinding and Directional Signs

Different spaces require different types of navigational help. The combination of both wayfinding and directional signs help people feel safe and not lost. When it comes to designing the signs, the goal or need for the area or information play a key role in determining the best use for wayfinding and directional signs.

Retail & Shopping Centers

The customer experience drives the bus for retailers and store owners. So making sure shoppers can easily navigate the space directly impacts revenue. Wayfinding and directional signage for retail may include signs for locating clearance and sales sections, the changing room, emergency exits and even locating departments within a single store or stores within a mall.

Construction Areas

Directional and wayfinding construction graphics are critical for keeping pedestrians, drivers, and passengers safe and prevent accidents. Directional signage can divert traffic or indicate detour routes while wayfinding signs help provide a broader view of the construction site by indicating zones, exits, and safety points.

Office Buildings

Office buildings can be a maze of doors and hallways, especially when everything looks the same. Corporate graphics that feature wayfinding signs showcase the layout of the offices or location of the different departments and facilities. Directional signs may lead people to specific offices, conference rooms, breakrooms or, most importantly, the emergency exit!

Theme Parks, Events, and Tradeshows

Sometimes it seems like wayfinding and directional signage were created specifically for events, trade shows, and theme parks. After all, being able to get around easily and hit your favorite booth or ride is the point, right? From the parking lot to the most popular booth or attraction, first-timers and seasoned veterans rely on these signs to move efficiently throughout the space. Wayfinding signs help orient attendees or park goers, helping them to locate registration or ticketing booths, exhibitor booths or attractions, and session rooms. Directional signs tell them exactly how to get there and sometimes even how long it may take!

ADA Compliance

No matter which type of directional or wayfinding signage, it’s critical that both meet ADA requirements for visibility and accessibility. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) necessitates specific signage for accessibility. ADA-compliant, tactile signs use text, dimensional features, colors, and placement that help visibility impaired or those in wheelchairs safely navigate the space.