What is Wayfinding?

January 11, 2017

This post is a collaborative effort with WalkArlington.

Generally defined, wayfinding includes all the ways people orient themselves and navigate from place to place. The University of Michigan defines it as “spatial problem solving,” while The Society for Experiential Graphic Design states that it “refers to the information systems that guide people through a physical environment [to better] enhance their understanding and experience of the space.”

Probably the most universal example of wayfinding is when you’re out at a restaurant or at a sports arena and you need to use the restroom. How do you know where to go if you don’t stop to ask anyone? That’s right, you look for signs. And what are those signs? Bingo, wayfinding! 

Why is it important?

In a world full of smartphones and hundreds of different apps to help you find your way, wayfinding may not feel as important as it once did – but that’s untrue for many reasons. Here are just a few:

  • Everyone may not have a smartphone
  • Sometimes smartphones run out of battery
  • Your phone may not be easy to use while zooming down a trail on a bike
  • You may not feel safe pulling out your phone in a certain scenario
  1. Wayfinding gives you quick help in a pinch or just as you’re on your way.

    Examples of wayfinding in Arlington
    In Arlington County, wayfinding is an important amenity to our pedestrian and bike-friendly landscape. As pictured below, wayfinding signs help pedestrians and people on bikes navigate Arlington's 100 miles of multi-use trails and routes. Without wayfinding, it can be hard for those using the trails to easily find their way. Here are a few examples of wayfinding signs you will see around Arlington County.

Wayfinding Sign Wayfinding Sign

Bonus: Check out BikeArlington’s wayfinding project update blog from David Goodman, Arlington County Bicycle & Pedestrian Programs Manager

Some of our favorite wayfinding signs
Wayfinding is important in every city – whether it’s large or small. And when it comes to wayfinding as part of a city’s transportation system, they’re invaluable. Check out some of our favorites below from around the world:

Global Wayfinding  Global Wayfinding

Global Wayfinding   Global Wayfinding


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Did You Know?

Arlington County has 50 miles of shared-use, off-street trails.

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