Put simply, wayfinding helps people get to where they need to go, and discover everything a location has to offer. Poor wayfinding gets in the way of finding your way around places like hospitals and cities.

What happens if you don’t have a strategy in place, though – or what if you do and it isn’t working properly?

Let’s explore the consequences of poor wayfinding, and what a successful strategy provides an area.

Poor Impressions

Poor wayfinding risks giving visitors a poor impression of an area. One of the most obvious ways is in how easy it is to become lost. It doesn’t matter whether someone arrives in a place with a goal in mind, or without a specific intention – they need to be guided in the right direction. If they aren’t, they risk becoming discouraged or looking elsewhere in the future.

It’s not just important to guide visitors as they arrive though – the leaving experience is just as crucial. Once someone has finished their visit, they will want minimal disruption between then and their exit. If it is too difficult, it may impact their future engagements and disincentivize them from returning.

Financial Loss from Poor Wayfinding

These poor impressions of a physical space lead to poor impressions of an overall brand, colouring a user’s perspective. By not paying due attention to wayfinding, you end up risking losing revenue. If the physical space is where you make money, like a supermarket or amusement park, then it’s clear how poor wayfinding will impact you monetarily. Poor word-of-mouth and less repeat visitors will make it difficult to keep your business growing.

However, these impressions also affect the broader impression brand even if the physical space is only ancillary to it. Keeping a positive customer impression at every touch point is important, and a poor reaction to a physical space will spoil any other good impressions.

Undoubtedly, your location will also see changes over time, and some aspects of your wayfinding strategy will need to change to compensate for this. This will cost you money, but a good wayfinding strategy will make unforeseen changes easier to undertake, saving costs overall.

Lack of Consistency

Consistency is integral to the success of any wayfinding strategy – if there are strange differences between locations, then users may become disoriented. If the design of one area differs drastically, then visitors may not see it as part of the rest of the strategy.

This is why it’s so important to regularly review how well your wayfinding strategy functions. As mentioned above, an area is bound to change over time. You need to ensure that throughout these changes your strategy is consistent, even if you don’t notice any issues immediately.

One issue of consistency you may not have considered is inclusivity. Not everyone will engage with wayfinding the same, and you need to ensure your strategy works for everyone. This means accounting for things like colour blindness or reduced mobility when designing how your system will work. Keeping enough variation in the ways a visitor can approach your location keeps everyone’s journey as seamless as possible.

Fatal Consequences of Poor Wayfinding

In some circumstances, poor wayfinding can have even worse consequences. If a medical emergency occurs and paramedics can’t navigate quickly enough, then it can lead to real injury or death. In hospitals, nurses are often distracted from attending patients by being asked for directions.

There are documented cases where sick patients can’t navigate a hospital quickly enough to get needed medical attention. Life and death situations are far from the norm, but they’re easily preventable with investment into a wayfinding strategy.

From poor impressions to financial loss, the costs of poor wayfinding are wide ranging. If you’re in need of a strategy to take your site’s wayfinding to the next level, then don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Liam Butcher