Why Wayfinding Matters: What We Can Learn from Disney Culture

Walt Disney World is aptly named:

Spanning 40 square miles, Walt Disney World Resort is approximately the size of San Francisco, or nearly twice the size of Manhattan. The property features:

  • Four theme parks
  • Two water adventure parks
  • 35 resort hotels (26 owned and operated by Walt Disney World, including seven Disney Vacation Club properties)
  • 63 holes of golf on four courses
  • Two full-service spas
  • Disney’s Wedding Pavilion
  • ESPN Wide World of Sports complex
  • Disney Springs, an entertainment-shopping-dining complex

On an average day, there are approximately 250,000 people on Walt Disney World Resort property – including Cast Members, other employees and guests.

Walt Disney World Cast Members come from all over the world, representing more than 80 nationalities and speaking more than 50 different languages.

All of which begs the question:

How do people find their way around Walt Disney World?

Wayfinding design provides guidance and the means to help people feel at ease in their surroundings.

– David Gibson, The Wayfinding Handbook

In the 1980s, the design firm Sussman/Prejza was engaged to reimagine the wayfinding and signage system for Walt Disney World (and also for the developing Euro Disney project, now known as Disneyland Paris).

Established in 1968, Sussman/Prejza works with its clients to develop memorable identities and branding, based upon research and graphic archeology. Abstract stories are woven into the visual product, creating a sense of place and memories that users retain and remember. S/P’s work has pushed the boundaries of environmental graphic design to meld cohesively with architecture, civic planning, and landscape design.

The recognized trailblazer in this discipline, Sussman/Prejza’s expertise can be seen in civic, cultural, corporate, sports, institutional, entertainment and retail projects around the globe.

At Walt Disney World, all Guests arrive by highway or freeway, so the main task of Sussman/Prejza was to develop a vehicular signing system that would be “unique in spirit, clean, easy-to-follow, and capable of being expanded as the area continued to grow.”

The theme park was divided into several major “districts.” A hierarchy of signs was established to first lead Guests toward a specific district, and once there, toward a distinct destination. The 1,000-sign system (now greatly expanded) includes large freeway signs, major and minor road directional, regulatory signs, gateways, and bus graphics.


In order to develop a wayfinding system that would cover an area so large while at the same time stay flexible enough for growth, Sussman/Prejza started with a basic color palette and shape guide.


The color palette consists of lavender, blue, and green, chosen to emphasize the black, red, and gold used to create Mickey Mouse. Of the various shapes, the “mouse ears” reinforce the iconic symbol used to represent Mickey Mouse.

Great wayfinding systems employ explicit signs and information as well as implicit symbols and landmarks that together communicate with accuracy and immediacy. Over the last thirty years, wayfinding design has matured to become an essential component of buildings and spaces, helping make sense of a sometimes-overwhelming task: getting from here to there.

What do wayfinding clients need?

The examples below illustrate the range of design projects. The complexity of the project grows in direct proportion to the scale and challenges of the client’s property.

  • Individual sign – a single landmark or feature sign
  • Wayfinding for building complexes – exterior and interior signage for a group of buildings
  • System signage – signage for multiple locations, branches, or franchises operated by one owner or manager, ranging from park systems to consumer banks
  • Open space signage – exterior signage for individual parks, streets, or plazas; for trails and greenways; for urban downtowns
  • Campus wayfinding – wayfinding system for a group of buildings operating together on one site
  • Building signage – signage for an individual structure, exterior and/or interior

Successful wayfinding design depends on understanding three variables:

  1. The nature of the client organization
  2. The people with whom the organization communicates
  3. The type of environment in which the system is installed

Wayfinding in ChurchWorld

As a leader in ChurchWorld, you may be saying, “This is all well and good, but we’re not even meeting our budget or having enough volunteers to serve in our ministries, or …”

People will always need to know where they are, how to reach their destination, what is happening there, and how to exit.

Of all places, shouldn’t the church be clear about wayfinding?

Part Two: The Wayfinding Design Process

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

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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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Recent Comments
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
comment_post_ID); ?> "While I understand the intent behind this phrase" Expound please. What do you understand to be the intent behind that phrase?
— Ken

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