The Wayfinding Design Process

The job of the wayfinding designer is to present information in public spaces that helps facilitate a seamless guest experience.

 – David Gibson, The Wayfinding Handbook

When people attempt to navigate a place for the first time, they face a series of decisions as they follow a path to their destination. There is a sequential pattern to this wayfinding process – in effect, a series of questions that people ask themselves along the way. Before starting the design process, the wayfinding designer must anticipate guest patterns, understand that logic, and apply it in the planning phase. Then work can begin on a framework for the wayfinding design program.

Here’s a scenario that’s probably familiar to many of you:


Imagine you are driving your family of five into Walt Disney World for the first time. As you approach the main entrance, you look up to see the sign. Most likely, you have excited children talking, laughing, or maybe singing “Let It Go.” In addition, you are listening to both your wife and your GPS instructions, trying to decide which one to follow.

Just after you drive through this sign, you immediately begin to see other signs – lots of signs!

Once you are in Walt Disney World proper, you have to locate your Resort, or maybe you are going to one of the Parks first. You approach one, feeling a mixture of hesitance and excitement: Am I going in the right direction? Is the resort I want to go to? Once in the parking lot, if there is no clear entrance marked, are you going in the right door? And once inside, How do you find the registration desk you are looking for?

At each stage in this sequence, the Guest must make decisions based on the available, and readily visible, information. The job of the wayfinding designer is to present information in public spaces that helps facilitate a seamless guest experience. In other words, the necessary sequence of movement should feel as effortless and simplified as possible so that ten steps seem to require only two or three.

The designer’s challenge is to determine where to locate signs, what they should say, and how they should say it. Thoughtful research and analysis help the designer understand a complex public place, such as a hospital or a campus or a subway system. In the process of tracing the guest’s path, the designer attempt to uncover the hidden logic of the place. Once that is clear, the designer can develop a strategic framework for the wayfinding system.

NEWS FLASH: All of the above statements are also true in churches.

When Guests come to your facilities, do they know how to drive into the parking lots? Do they know which building they are going to? Do they know which door to enter? Can they easily determine where they need to go once they step inside the building?

Church leaders must think like wayfinding designers in order to help Guests and members have a seamless guest experience while on your campus. Nothing less than excellence should be the goal.

Part Three: Sign Language

Part One: Why Wayfinding Matters: What We Can Learn from Disney Culture

Information for this series of posts comes primarily from The Wayfinding Handbook by David Gibson. It is an excellent resource for leaders who want to apply the art and science of wayfinding to their organizations.


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Bob Adams

Bob Adams

Bob is an absolute fanatic about Guest Experiences, growing up watching his father serve customers at the gas station he built and operated for 44 years. Bob is continually connecting with corporate leaders in the customer experience world, learning and then translating practices for ChurchWorld. He writes, speaks, and consults on the topic frequently. Best of all, he is a front-line practitioner at Elevation Church, serving in various roles at the Uptown and Lake Norman Campuses. Vocationally, Bob has a dual role at Auxano, a clarity first consulting firm serving the church. As Vision Room Curator and Digital Engagement Leader he researches, edits, writes and publishes online content. As Guest Experience Navigator, he leverages his passion, providing Guest Perspective Evaluations and Guest Experience Blueprints. Bob and his wife Anita have been married for 38 years. They have 4 children, 2 daughters-in-law, 1 son-in-law, and 4 grandchildren.

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comment_post_ID); ?> I am a senior citizen who has lived in many areas of the US, the farthest south being Virginia DC area. There are several church plants in the area--some failed, some doing well. One of the sadist failures was a plant in NW Washington near a large Presbyterian Church (I had been an elder in the church, so I knew the area) where changes in church doctrine was driving many away from the PCUSA churches. There were many mature Christians who lived in the area who were very willing to participate and give generously to the church. Its failure was a loss. The pastor and his wife lived in a VA suburb, wanted something that would appeal to their tastes, which included "praise music". There was a professional piano teacher and several people who had sung in choirs in the area. Their suggestions were completely ignored. Forget that there was joyous participation in singing hymns and silence by many for the praise music. The experienced church leaders that were attending were expected to seek the wisdom of the pastor who did not live in the area rather than have any role in leadership. There is another church plant in Northern Virginia that seems to be going the same way. My take: the pastors should get past their high-school and college days culture and get to know and appreciate the people of the community. Do not try to reproduce Intervarsity or Campus Crusade. Hymns are not a sin and "uneducated" (never graduated from college) should not be ignored as uninformed or stupid. People who have served in and/or live in the area are needed in leadership and not just to serve coffee and give. We all need to pray together and serve God in the community in which there is to be a plant. Glenna Hendricks
— Glenna Hendricks
comment_post_ID); ?> I like it Mac and do agree with your opinions on the matter. Thanks much
— winston
comment_post_ID); ?> In this era, we have the opportunity of professional church staff today who utilize their gifting to shape the image and atmosphere of the church organization. But the 100% real impact on the church visitors is genuine evidence of changed lives by the gospel and the active growing discipleship (just as it was in the first century church). One demonstration is financially rich believers ministering equally together with poor believers (how odd, and incredibly miraculous; all humble and bow at the foot of the cross.). It is the awesome contrast of church members vocations, race, gender, age, maturity, gifting, humility that demonstrates to visitors "there is a Spirit in the place". That first-time guest list of 10 are "physical excuses", not spiritual excuses. Those don't tell the story. The condition of facilities and publicly greeting people have zero to do with it. The power of God in and through believers lives dedicated to impact other people with their relationship bridge-building of acceptance of the lost around them. Empowered believers are infectious, loving, helpful, giving, self-less, dynamic, compelling, bold, Christ-filled. As I have been in many church settings domestically and internationally, the facilities can be poor, and yet the fellowship can still be rich. We need to operate with first church humility. People come to Christ on His terms, not on our human abilities of hospitality. A huge catastrophe in a community, disaster relief brings lots of people into churches – many come to the church in those terrible conditions no matter the physical condition of the local church. Off the condition of facility, and onto the condition of God's people (living stones).... and everything else will grow.... and the other physical issues will be corrected by the staff.
— Russ Wright

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