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A Regional Wayfinding Primer

Posted in Civic, Regional Wayfinding, Speaking Engagements, White Paper on May 13th, 2011 by Mark VanderKlipp – Be the first to comment

This document was created for the Grand Vision Placemaking Summit on 3/1/11 and shared with participants in our presentation. Seemed to be a good document to share with our blog readers as well!

Overview: Regional Wayfinding
What is wayfinding? We define it simply as “direction for people in motion.” It’s a system of designed communications that use consistent terminology to direct visitors to the diversity of a region’s destinations, events and attractions. As a reflection of regional culture, a wayfinding system becomes a system of recognizable tools that fit within the context of local language, streetscapes and activities. A wayfinding program directs a visitor’s experience; it does not define it. We leave that job to each unique community.

Why develop a project like this?
As one of our clients said, “Wayfinding is about economic development. Period.” Regions are realizing that a shared approach to attracting business, resident and tourist dollars will be a net benefit. Overcoming competitive obstacles is always a difficult part of the process, since towns and destinations may have been competing for the same tourist dollars, sometimes for generations. It is important to shift thinking to the old adage that “a rising tide lifts all boats”: if more visitors are drawn to the region, everyone will profit. This can be a significant cultural hurdle, one that must be overcome by all stakeholders at the beginning of the process.
A consolidated approach to wayfinding unifies a region both verbally and visually, and gives visitors the tools they need to navigate successfully. Most importantly, the information provided to a visitor can make them feel like an “insider:” if they feel competent and confident, they are able to discover unique events, attractions and destinations on their own. When they do this, they’re much more likely to share this positive experience with family, friends, colleagues, neighbors. At the same time, wayfinding can build awareness among residents to all that their region has to offer – tools used in wayfinding programs are not only intended for visitors from far away! In most instances, local and regional visitors (within 30-50 miles) are the primary audiences for wayfinding.
What does a wayfinding system include?
It’s important to note that wayfinding is a communication challenge as much as it is a signage task. Certainly signage plays a significant role, but there are many potential ways to reach a visitor prior to their arrival with relevant, reassuring messages. Verbally, each of these must be speaking in the same way. Visually, use of a similar graphic approach to mapping and the presentation of information will build familiarity with the program and make wayfinding tools recognizable, whether online, in a mobile device or on a sign.
Who typically runs the project?
In our experience, a regional Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB), a consortium of Chambers of Commerce or other economic development agencies are part of the process. A single project champion is critical: one that is well connected within the region and can move the process forward, both politically and financially. While an outside firm can help organize and manage the process of design and implementation, there is no substitute for a strong internal advocate.
Where does funding typically originate?
For most regional wayfinding programs, the analysis and design phases are funded by a single organization that helps shepherd the process and provides crucial review and approvals. The true creativity begins as the project moves into implementation phases: paying for a wayfinding system rollout can be complex and expensive. From detailed pay-to-play formulas to Department of Transportation grants, tax-funded approaches and other ideas, we’ve helped our clients discover ways to fund programs that make the design a reality.
What steps are required?

  1. Engage in research to define the region: What is it? What does it include? What makes it unique from other regions? Why should people come?
  2. Establish an internal project champion to guide the process (person or organization)
  3. Align communities around common goals: outreach, awareness building
  4. Design a unifying brand, shared language: common terminology
  5. Solicit support from a variety of constituents, and continually communicate progress to all stakeholders and the general public. Involve regulatory agencies at the outset.
  6. Use existing assets, such as DOT signage, for consistency and savings
  7. Design flexible, sustainable systems: signage, print and electronic
  8. Throughout the process, design and build an equitable funding mechanism

Anticipated outcomes

  1. One consistent brand for the region, within which all communities, events and destinations communicate their unique attributes
  2. An intuitive set of tools for wayfinding, providing connections within and between communities and destinations
  3. Improved competitive position relative to other regions
  4. Increased confidence among visitors and regional residents who explore, discover and tell stories about their experiences.
  5. Deeper loyalty among visitors and an increase in return visits
  6. Increased “cross-pollination” among communities, events, destinations
  7. Better tools for economic development

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The FHWA has issued a clarification on the ruling it issued on January 25, 2016 terminating the Interim Approval of Clearview as an alternate font to the MUTCD. With regard to community wayfinding signage systems, the use of alternate fonts is still possible.

To summarize:

  • Projects currently in fabrication do not need to comply.
  • To the extent possible, projects currently in design should switch to the

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