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SU CCESSF U L PLACES & PUBLIC SPACES By Todd Mayfield with contributions from Bill Baker & Seth Frankel

f An Axia Creative Publication Copyright Š 2016 Axia Creative - All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed of transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic methods, without the prior written consent of the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical review and certain other noncommercial u s e s p er m itted b y cop yr ight law.



Branding Places and Public Spaces Creating memorable experiences




Wayfinding Meets Place Branding 3 Turning a wayfinding program into a branding tool Disney’s Contribution to Branded Wayfinding The art of placemaking


The Anatomy of a Branded Wayfinding System Function groups and sign types




35 41

Wayfinding Strategy 6 Delivering the message


Seven Steps to Branded Wayfinding Success 7 The step by step process from planning to implementation




Maintaining the System 9 How to manage and maintain the system in place


Telling Your Story with Interpretive Signage Enhancing the experience of place

The Evolution of a Wayfinding Alchemist Teachers Along the Way Glossary of Terms 11 Understanding the lingo


125 133

Branded wayfinding is an important component of creating a successful destination. While wayfinding connects the dots, branded wayfinding connects people with experiences. It has grown from a simple method of guiding people to places to a way of transforming communities into destinations. There are several books about wayfinding in general. They provide the principles and methodology used to help people navigate through environments such as urban centers, hospitals, airports, museums, retail facilities and hotels. There is less information available about branded wayfinding. It is usually lightly touched on within the broader topic of wayfinding, but not explored as a strategic union of the two specialties in the context of community environments. Some information about branded wayfinding can be found in blogs and white papers written by people who position themselves as authorities on the topic. Some are indeed qualified and knowledgeable, but many are not. Few truly understand the complicated aspects and nuances of destination wayfinding as it relates to brand. Developing a branded wayfinding system is a science as much as it is an art. It is more than a method to improve navigation; it is a powerful system that can support a community’s brand message and help to create a memorable sense of place. Branding has become an important part of destination marketing and placemaking. A community brand is typically developed before a wayfinding initiative begins. As with wayfinding, a brand’s success relies on a highly evolved methodology executed by a qualified


consultant: specifically, one who has experience in the development of brands for communities and urban environments. Organizations such as convention and visitor bureaus (CVBs), initiative committees, or civic teams that contract with minimally qualified consultants are often disappointed with the results. In order to determine if a consultant has the right stuff, one must know the basics about branded wayfinding for destinations. Good information about this specialty is not easy to find. That’s why we created this book. We take an in-depth look at the art and science of branded wayfinding for destinations, how it came to be, and the process required for its successful implementation. First we discuss the strategic development of a destination brand—what it is and why it is so important for a destination. We define wayfinding in general terms, where it came from, and how it evolved into a specialized discipline. Then we introduce the combined specialty of branded wayfinding and how it can help to transform a place into a great experience. The information in this book will enlighten those who consider branded wayfinding for their community, and will serve as a valuable reference to help insure that the right steps are taken toward a highly successful solution. Todd Mayfield and two of his strategic partners have combined their knowledge and produced a book to give readers valuable insights into the successful creation of a comprehensive branded wayfinding system for destinations. They are all industry leaders, each having decades of experience and a history of satisfied clients. Todd serves as the Group Creative Director of Axia Creative. Over his 30-year career in


wayfinding, brand development, advertising and print graphics, Todd has earned numerous awards for design excellence and for his contributions to wayfinding and brand development. His work has been featured in various industry magazines and books such as Print, Signs of the Times and American Corporate Identity. Previously, he served as the Design Director for the Douglas Group in Washington, DC, where he headed branding and wayfinding projects for clients such as the US Capitol (DC), the US National Arboretum (DC), the City of Rockville (MD), the Ronald Reagan Building (DC), Marriott Hotels and Ritz-Carlton. In Chicago, Todd was a senior designer for Ambrosi & Associates. His projects included instore and point-of-sale graphics for Sears, Jacobsons, Walgreens and Herbingers. He also provided brand development and wayfinding for retail malls owned by General Growth Properties. In Hawaii, Mr. Mayfield worked for Media Five, Ltd., a large international architectural and interior design firm. He was a lead designer for the firm’s graphic design team, which specialized in creative services for the hospitality industry. His projects included branding and wayfinding for large hotels, resorts and communities such as the historic Royal Hawaiian Hotel in Waikiki, the Kapalua Beach Hotel on Maui and the Kapolei residential development on Oahu. Bill Baker is Chief Strategist for Total Destination Marketing and is internationally acclaimed for his innovative and pragmatic approach to branding places of all sizes, from nations to small cities. He is a widely-respected industry thought-leader and practitioner with more than 30 years’ destination branding and marketing experience in 25 countries.


Most notably, for the past fifteen years, Bill has provided breakthrough solutions for small cities and regions throughout the USA and Canada, in urban, rural and coastal settings. He has worked in cities and regions from North Carolina to New York, Illinois, Oregon, and Alaska. His depth of experience and comprehensive technical knowledge enable him to join the dots in unexpected ways to reveal potent branding and tourism opportunities that others may overlook. Prior to establishing TDM, he directed Australia’s iconic “Shrimp on the Barbie� advertising and marketing campaign which he directed for seven years. He also produced tourism strategies for the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, and over the past decade has been invited to provide strategic counsel and advice to many countries, including Hong Kong, Guam, India, Macau, Malaysia, and Saudi Arabia. Bill has been interviewed by CNN, The Travel Channel, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the New Yorker, Forbes, USA Today, and many other leading media outlets. He is widely published, and his book, Destination Branding for Small Cities, has been an international bestseller on for seven years. He is always in demand as a speaker on destination branding, energizing seminars and educational forums around the world. Seth Frankel is the founder and principal of Studio Tectonic in Boulder, Colorado. He has been crafting educationally focused public places for over twenty years. With a foundation in design and the humanities, Seth integrates design excellence with meaningful storytelling that brings added dimension to environments and enhances the experience of place for visitors.


His body of work includes exhibit design and wayfinding signage for the Denver Zoo in Colorado; Holden Arboretum (located in northeast Ohio, in the rain shadow of Lake Erie); Zion National Park in Utah; Maison des Esclaves, an UNESCO World Heritage Site in Senegal; the Colorado Chautauqua in Boulder; the United States Botanic Garden in Washington DC; and the Smithsonian Institution. He is active within the exhibition field as a contributor author to several books and presents at professional conferences at the national level. His work has received awards from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), the National Association for Interpretation (NAI), The Mountain-Plains Museum Association (MPMA), History Colorado, and the Society for Experiential Graphic Design (SEGD). Prior to establishing Studio Tectonic, Seth was the managing director at ECOS Communications, as well as senior exhibit designer for The Douglas Group, where he met Todd Mayfield. He cut his professional teeth as an in-house exhibit designer at the Smithsonian Institution.



by Todd Mayfield & Bill Baker As consumers, we try to block out the noisy marketing messages that often invade our personal space. Advertisers and marketing professionals seem to be getting more aggressive and obtrusive in their delivery each year. They often blitz the media with blatant repetition that pummels our subconscious into submission, or they creatively disguise their message by delivering stories that reach for our emotions, targeting specific demographics. Brand strategy is a guidance system that enables advertisers to clarify their offers, differentiate themselves, and focus on consistently conveying the benefits that add the greatest value. This enables messages to break through and connect with customers on an emotional level. Many everyday products have done this and now occupy a special place in our hearts, minds, and purchasing habits. We don’t buy a soft drink—we buy a Coke. We don’t buy tissues—we buy Kleenex. Brands are ubiquitous. They are everywhere and they have infiltrated our everyday vocabulary.

Why Are More Places Turning to Branding? In this era of super-brands it may seem an unusual notion to consider a city, region, state or country as a brand. We buy brands because as consumers they make our choices easier. In the context of a place selling itself as a focal point or product for tourism or economic development, it makes sense that it should be managed as a brand to shape and control its identity and make it the preferred option.


Cities and regions of all sizes find themselves competing more fiercely for attention and respect. Their customers have an over-supply of places from which they can choose. Some locations are trying to compete while using images that are out of date and inaccurate. These perceptions, accurate or not, are what prospective customers base decisions on Country brandmark for Australia

when searching for places where they can vacation, study, invest, or relocate. In the USA there are approximately 20,000 cities, 3,400 counties, 125 scenic byways, and 12,800 designated National Historic Districts. That is not to mention the resorts, spas, cruise lines and foreign destinations that are also clamoring for attention. With this much competition, any place that wants to prosper will need to rely heavily on branding.

It’s Crowded and Changing It may be hard to believe, but 90% of State brandmark for Utah

incorporated cities in the USA have a population of less than 25,000 residents. This means that the struggle to gain attention is


not limited to major population centers and places with large marketing budgets. Most towns and cities are striving to be recognized, and to attract investment and talented people, simply to sustain themselves. In this noisy and crowded world, it is hard for small cities to attract attention. We usually don’t spend much time thinking about cities other than those in the media, or those where we live, do business, or travel. It is sometimes easy to forget that the world is not as interested in the place where we live as those of us who live there. Cities generally have infrequent opportunities to capture our attention and impress us. Each year, thousands of places around the world come to the fore for a brief moment through news reports or other events, and then disappear from our radar again. And the stories that raise a city’s profile are not always positive. They often have to do with bad weather, crime, accidents, or disasters. (If a city is fortunate, its fame may come from a sporting event, a celebrity, or a travel feature.) In many cases, the media reinforce stereotypes or convey incorrect or outdated information about a place. The problem is even more acute for those places that only have limited marketing budgets and can’t afford to counteract negative media coverage.

Brands and Branding The word “brand” is an elusive term. Most people assume that it is all about a logo or a tagline. This is a common misperception. A logo and a tagline are important parts of the brand toolkit, but they’re not the brand. They are the visual and verbal cues or signatures that aid recall of the positive associations that a place or product wants to be known for.


A simple definition of a destination’s brand is this: a distinctive promise that helps persuade consumers to choose one place over another. The success of a brand is determined by the value of the promises it makes and keeps. To become a successful brand, the place must consistently organize, invest and manage itself in ways that enable it to fulfill the promises it conveys to target City brandmark for Mankato, MN

key audiences. A genuine brand encapsulates the reputation and the enduring essence of the place. Importantly, it must be crystal clear about what the place is, what it does, why it is interesting, and why it should matter to specific audiences.

It Pays to be Proactive For ambitious places that want to stand out, adopting a branded approach has emerged as the best way to differentiate themselves, unify partners, and project their competitive District brandmark for Carlsbad, NM

strengths. An important starting point for city leaders is to recognize that there is a direct correlation between how the world sees


a place and its attractiveness, respect and credibility. No longer can cities afford to stand by while their image is shaped by events and organizations outside their control. They have found that they must be proactive and constantly strive to make themselves relevant and respected. A carefully designed brand strategy provides the framework and guidelines that, when fully implemented, can lead to increased social and economic benefits for the entire community. It clarifies what the city wants to stand for, how it needs to convey its messages and experiences, and how it plans to mobilize its resources more effectively.

It’s About the Community’s “Good Name” The esteem enjoyed by the community’s brand image can also determine whether its leaders, businesses, and citizens are readily accepted in the “right circles.” This might mean getting seats on desirable committees, attracting awards and grants, winning bids to host events, and enticing important conferences and meetings. Creating a positive brand image is not about boasting or communicating warm and fuzzy feelings to satisfy a group of community boosters and officials. It should be about adopting the best practices in destination marketing and branding to generate loyalty, wealth, and well-being for the community. Expressed another way, it’s about the good name and reputation of the city. The target audiences for destinations are increasingly people who are experienced, discerning travelers, and time-starved. Many of them are likely to have a “Been there, done that” or even a “So what?” attitude. Most likely, many have experienced some of the best in product categories—whether that means Nordstrom’s, FedEx, Ritz Carlton, or Royal Caribbean Cruises—and their experiences may lead them to expect outstanding encounters, no matter what entity they are in touch with in the destination.


What Are The Benefits of Branding Places? Community leaders often overlook the benefits and concepts involved in place branding— or marketing for that matter. Some are simply uncomfortable using the terms branding or marketing and the community’s name in the same sentence. However, if they think in terms of managing their community’s identity, image or reputation rather than its brand, they are more likely to “get it.” While this may not be a technically correct definition of branding, it does help many people understand and support the concept and its benefits.

There are many benefits that a brand strategy can provide. These include: 1.

Differentiating the place from look-alike competitors.


Establishing a clear, valued, and sustainable point of difference to other choices.


Creating a unifying focus for all public, private, and non-profit partners that rely on the

image and reputation of the place.


Providing comprehensive guidelines for designs, communications, experiences

and images.


A more persuasive and efficient way to connect with customers on an emotional level.


Addressing out of date, inaccurate or unbalanced perceptions.


Increasing the ability of the place to attract and retain visitors, talented people,

and students.


Providing a catalyst for future development, new businesses, and investment.


Giving inspiration for streetscapes, public art, placemaking and wayfinding.

10. Enhancing civic pride and advocacy.


What is Wayfinding? People have always depended on visual points of reference or landmarks to help them navigate through an environment. Early humans followed hoof prints and trails in the grass to track animals for food. Native Americans would bend young saplings and tie them to the ground as trail markers. (You can still find large, centuries-old oak trees in the South that have grown in a distinctive bowed shape.) Most indigenous civilizations used markings on cave walls and large rocks to tell stories or mark paths for passersby.

Native American trail marker

As we began to build towns and cities, our wayfinding requirements grew. Archaeologists have excavated evidence that civilizations from thousands of years ago had unique ways of instructing their citizens on how to get around. As more people learned to read, typographical signs were used more commonly to direct, identify and warn. Written signs as wayfinding tools became important when mankind entered the age of mass transportation. The need to move large masses of people created many challenges not only on streets and roads but within buildings and public gathering areas where business was conducted. The earliest man-made road signs were called milestones. They communicated distance or gave direction. The Romans placed stone columns throughout their empire giving the distance to Rome. The first modern road signs used on a wide scale were for riders of tall bicycles in the Ancient mile stone used in Rome.


late 1870s. These signs communicated more than distance or direction. They warned riders of hazards such as steep hills or sharp turns.

The Evolution of Wayfinding As our cities and towns turned into large metropolises, architects and city planners had to hire specialized designers and human behaviorists to create environments in which people could move in an organized way. In the mid 1970’s a new industry evolved dedicated to the study, development and implementation of wayfinding for highways, cities, institutions and retail environments. The development of Experiential Graphic Design (EGD) as a definitive discipline with its own specialized practitioners, accelerated wayfinding as an art and science that was executed through a strategic process. Since then, EGD has become a highly specialized design discipline with specific curriculum in many art schools and universities. The term “wayfinding” has been used by urban planners and architects for over five decades. Today, it is used by professionals who understand the importance of guiding people through built environments: professionals such as tourism consultants, graphic artists, sign fabricators and theme park developers.


“the art and science of moving people through an environment to a desired location using a number of visual cues including, but not limited to, guide signage, place identification, visual landmarks and various forms of experiential graphic design.” 20

Some of the most common locations where wayfinding can be found are: 1.

Beaches 11.


Business districts


Parks and outdoor recreation areas


Cultural attractions


Public transportation


Downtowns and Main Streets


Retail environments


Entertainment districts


Sporting venues


Forests and trails




Gateways into communities


Theme and amusement parks


Government precincts


Tourist precincts


Historic sites, trails and districts


Universities and educational precincts


Hotels and resorts


Visitor information facilities

Parking areas

What is Branded Wayfinding? Just as some people make the mistake of confusing a logo with a brand, others confuse the design of a wayfinding system as effectively communicating their community brand. A brand is much more than a design, and branded wayfinding is more than a series of signs. A branded wayfinding system should be inspired by, and integral to, the community’s brand strategy. There is a symbiotic relationship between the brand and the wayfinding system. Wayfinding ties the brand to the physical environment and creates an emotional attachment for people by creating familiarity and reassurances as well as new experiences and encounters. Branded wayfinding can provide added benefits and purpose to an otherwise generic signage or wayfinding system. In addition to its basic functionality in providing orientation and navigation, a branded system introduces personality, storytelling, and importantly arouses the senses and stimulates emotions through its connection to the core values of the brand. This can contribute to a deeper relationship between the place and its key audiences. 21

In order for a wayfinding system to support a brand and provide outstanding experiences at critical touch points, the brand should be fully developed and ready for implementation before the first visual concept for wayfinding is explored. The branded wayfinding system draws inspiration from the priorities, logo, colors, key words, style, fonts, emotional benefits, and personality outlined in the brand manual and visual identity style guides.

Link Communications to the Physical Environment In many cases, tourism is the most visible marketing goal of a location. The quality and visibility of this effort often has a strong influence in shaping perceptions of the city’s image in target markets, which in some cases may be on the other side of the world. Another reason to align with the destination or tourism brand in wayfinding is that many cities have found that their best small business relocation candidates include people who previously visited as tourists. These cities reason that once people

If Starbucks printed their logo in red instead of their usual green, their established brand equity would weaken and lose its strong familiarity.

have positive experiences in their communities as visitors, they are much more inclined to


relocate their business or family to the area. It makes sense that the brand and its attributes communicated through print, web, broadcast and social media should also inform how visitors encounter and navigate through the city. Imagine entering several McDonald’s restaurants, Starbucks stores, or Shell service stations and being greeted by completely unfamiliar products, designs, colors, services and symbols in each. Meaningful brands don’t display this type of dissonance or schizophrenia. However, this is a common occurrence in the way many places present themselves. This most commonly happens where decision-makers within a city are confined to their organizational silos (and their associated budgets) and set out to design a wayfinding system from scratch without reference to the destination or place brand. For this reason the values of the tourism brand should be influential in designing the wayfinding system.

The Link Between Branding and Wayfinding An increasing number of forward thinking places are looking beyond their marketing communications to build their images. There is a growing awareness of the opportunities to shape their brand identity through their physical environment and how people interact with the place. Today, place branding is increasingly likely to engage urban planners, architects and placemaking specialists as readily as tourism and economic development marketers. The introduction of branded wayfinding involves much more than creating attractive signs with a design theme. It goes beyond satisfying the basic needs of “where am I?”, “how do I get there?”, and “how do I know I’m there?” Wayfinding is an important part of the brand toolkit and is a conduit for delivering the experiences that have been promised in communications. It adds a common thread and context that unifies the physical realm of the place.


In addition to the physical environment comprising the city’s architecture, streetscapes, natural features and infrastructure, it is beneficial to consider a city as also being experiential and possessing important intangible characteristics. No community is one-dimensional. It’s always more than its physical attributes and features. For example, its cool, relaxed, laid-back demeanor and celebrity can be as attractive as physical assets like the beach, jazz bars, outdoor restaurants, and galleries. It’s often these intangibles—such as culture, heritage, personality and atmosphere—that have the most profound influence in conveying what makes the place distinctive and attractive. If these are distinctive community strengths, they should be embodied in the brand and be revealed through the wayfinding system in ways that make them more accessible.




by Bill Baker Branded wayfinding can help build a destination brand. It has a vital role to play in connecting the physical environment with the needs and emotions of visitors (and residents) who want to be stimulated, entertained, educated, and challenged. A branded wayfinding system can also help people recall communications that they may have previously been exposed to. In addition to offering ease of navigation, a branded wayfinding system can provide information, form unexpected experiences, build a sense of anticipation, differentiate zones or districts, and consolidate potentially competing interests into a unified and attractive whole—all while forming strong emotional attachments. In this way, wayfinding can be a pivotal component in building a meaningful and sustainable community brand.


Branded wayfinding can be beneficial in three ways: 1.

Brand Orientation and Navigation

Presents a friendly, familiar and welcoming face

Stages an enticing sense of arrival

Delineates districts and precincts that are critical to the brand geography and

revealing their distinctive character

Facilitates easier familiarization and navigation

Introduces information kiosks and directory maps to provide accessible and

meaningful information to reveal the brand experiences

Facilitates the link between mobile devices and relevant digital information to

enhance experiences


Communicating the Brand Identity

Helps to bring the brand to life by linking city spaces and places with familiar brand


Consistently reinforces the brand’s verbal and visual identity to better package the

environment and aid awareness, navigation and discovery

Projects the brand personality and character of the place

Encourages event-related signs to leverage the brand

Inexpensively promotes the brand, events and activities through branded

street banners

Increases awareness, understanding, support and adoption of the brand by

local stakeholders

Facilitates a stronger emotional connection with the city



Creating Brand Experiences

Makes it easier to discover and enjoy the city’s experiences and brand promise

Amplifies and revealing the physical and experiential qualities of the brand

Optimizes satisfaction at critical brand touch-points

Provides the feeling that this is a special place and distinct from anywhere else

Creates new experiences through thematic interpretation, districts, clusters, and trails

to underpin the brand

Prepare to Launch: Selecting Place Branding Expertise Once it has been decided to develop a city brand, the next critical decision is how to undertake and manage the process. Will you attempt to handle the research, design and strategic development internally or will you engage the services of a specialist firm? If you decide to engage qualified specialists, the consideration then becomes which firm to hire, and under what conditions. From the outset, stakeholders need to be aware that destination branding is a strategic management tool and much more than a new logo, catchy tagline or advertising campaign. A true brand strategy is a beacon that guides how the community presents itself, unifies stakeholders to deploy the brand, and consistently offers superior experiences to exceed its Destination Promise. Achieving this requires an extensive brand audit and research, stakeholder consultation, and creative and collaborative thinking. It also calls for a thorough understanding of the nuances of place branding and how to successfully manage the brand. Understanding what the branding of places entails will more effectively guide the way you approach the project.


The selection of the firm to develop the brand will have longterm repercussions. Therefore, project leaders must first agree on the overall objectives and clarify exactly how they interpret “branding.� (Perhaps it’s being confused with a marketing plan, a logo, or an advertising campaign.) This will go a long way toward ensuring the best use of resources, making difficult decisions, and recruiting the right specialists. One of the greatest challenges for those involved in the community branding process is being objective and customer-focused. This may be the place where participants were born and educated, and locals sometimes have a bias that limits their understanding of how outsiders view the community. This highlights the need for impartiality and objectivity, which is difficult to find within the community. Some of the communities we have worked with initially attempted to develop a brand strategy themselves. After juggling with their own internal dynamics, they realized that an outside specialist can succeed where stagnation and disagreement may otherwise limit progress because of entrenched attitudes and a reluctance to cooperate with long-standing opponents Knowing how to go about the selection process itself


is equally important. There are countless firms that claim to have the expertise to guide you through place branding, so you need the know-how to clearly assess the specific capabilities of each and rule out those that are most likely to over-promise and under-deliver. In particular, you must be able to evaluate whether the firm truly understands the fundamentals of branding places and has the specific experience and relevant expertise to perform. Organizations are often sold a “branding” service that is actually nothing more than advertising, public relations, or some other form of communications. Many design firms, PR groups, ad agencies, research houses, architectural firms, and business consultants offer “branding” services. But they do so in order to sell their core expertise—their graphic design, PR, advertising, research, architecture, and business consulting services. Many will claim to be brand experts, but in reality, place branding is at best a by-product of what they do. There are countless firms that claim to have expertise to guide you through place branding, so you need the know-how to clearly assess the specific capabilities of each and detect those that are most likely to over-promise and under-deliver. In particular, you must be able to evaluate whether the firm truly understands the fundamentals of branding places and has the specific experience and relevant expertise. Organizations are often sold a ‘branding’ service that is actually nothing more than advertising, public relations, or some other communications principle. The reason is that many design firms, PR groups, ad agencies, research houses, architectural firms, and business consultants offer ‘branding’ services. But they do so in order to sell their core expertise - their graphic design, PR, advertising, research, architecture, and business consulting services. Many will claim to be brand experts, but in reality, place branding is at best a by-product of what they do.


It Takes Objectivity and the Right Outside Expertise One of the greatest challenges for those involved in the community branding process is being objective and customer-focused. This may be the place where participants were born and educated, and locals sometimes have a bias that limits their view of the community from the perspective of an outsider. This highlights the need for impartiality and objectivity that is very difficult to get from within the community. Some of the communities we have worked with initially attempted to develop their brand strategy themselves. After struggling with their own internal dynamics, they realized that an outside specialist can succeed where stagnation and disagreement may otherwise limit progress because of entrenched attitudes and a reluctance to cooperate with long-standing opponents.

d n a Br e h t Follow


by Todd Mayfield & Bill Baker Like a living organism, a successful branded wayfinding system functions best when all of its parts work in concert with one another. Remove one part, and the system no longer functions at its fullest capacity. Depending on the size and complexity of a community, a wayfinding system may include over one hundred components, most of which are signs and all of which are visual cues. Important aspects of wayfinding include the placement of parks and green areas, visual corridors through architectural environments, public art, strategic traffic flow, pedestrian paths, lighting, and of course, sign systems. Branded wayfinding systems vary in size and complexity. Depending on a community’s density and geographical size, a branded wayfinding sign system can be as simple as a few guide signs on Main Street or as complicated as a comprehensive program with landscaped gateways, district demarcations, several levels of vehicular and pedestrian guide signs, kiosks, directory maps, interpretive signs and trailblazers. Each unique program will incorporate a combination of elements that are customized to perform within a specific environment.


Function Groups A successful wayfinding system includes three or more of the seven basic function groups: influential, enhancement, regulatory, informative, orientation, identification, and guidance. Each of these function groups include several definitive sign types. The three most important function groups are guidance, identification, and orientation. The guidance group includes devices that lead people to places. Signs from the identification group announce a point of arrival. You can lead a horse to water, but if you don’t point out the water source, the horse may not know it is there. The orientation group of devices helps people understand where they are in relation to a particular destination. Influential message types serve more as marketing devices more than as guiding or identifying devices. Orientation message types relate more to landmarks, directory maps and kiosks. Information message types fall under the interpretive or public exhibit category. Regulatory message types are


for behavior control. Enhancement message types involve decorative imagery, public art, and visuals that entertain.

In creating successful messages for all function groups, there are 3 common rules to follow: 1.

Simplify the message down to its most basic form without compromising comprehension.

Limit the amount of information to a few basic points.


Tailor the message to the intended audience. This includes the viewer’s comprehension

time and relevancy to the viewer’s needs.


Function must always precede form. Form is important for brand support and aesthetic

appeal, but its function is the reason you have a sign in the first place: getting people

to places.

Group 1: Influential This group brings awareness to a place, service, event or activity and promises an experience. It is intended to market a community or its attractions. This group includes roadside billboards and facility displays such as transit stations and hotel lobbies. Advertising in travel publications and websites is also used to generate awareness of a destination and promote its values, resources and opportunities. Street banners can promote a brand, activity, event or destination within a community. All of these devices support efforts to attract visitors or influence their behavior with the ultimate goal of stimulating economic growth.

Billboards Billboards are large advertising devices placed alongside streets and highways. They display promotional messages to vehicular audiences. The primary objective of a billboard is to market


or promote a product, service or activity. The billboard’s role within a branded wayfinding system for a town or city is to entice people to stop in a community by promoting a key feature or attraction, supported with brand graphics. To maximize a billboard’s success, it must be kept as simple as possible. A driver has only a few seconds to comprehend a message when traveling at 40 mph or more. The intended message must be quickly understood and easy to remember. There is no time for a driver to grab a pen and paper to jot down a phone number or an obscure website address.

An effective billboard promotes a destination by using no more than four elements: 1. An attention-grabbing image 2. A short caption that communicates a benefit or opportunity 3. A branded identity 4. Distance and/or where to exit or turn An important rule of thumb to consider: less is always more as long as you include the basic four elements. Any more information and comprehension drops dramatically, since billboards are aimed at vehicular audiences who only have five to eight seconds to take in the messages. Billboards should not be used to communicate phone numbers or lengthy website addresses. Billboards are best used as brand builders.

Electronic Message Centers Electronic Message Centers (EMCs), also known as LED signs or electronic message boards, are computerized electronic visual communication devices that can be programmed to target specific audiences with tailored messages. They can reach one-time visitors to your community, promote special events or key attractions, and provide community information to


your residents. They should be used in areas where they can be seen by your target audience without distracting from signal lights and other regulatory devices, so as not to create driving hazards. Messages should be short and concise.

Displays Airports, train stations, bus terminals, rest stops, hotel lobbies and some rental car locations may offer wall displays. Depending on the venue, these can be pricey but effective. These “signs� are really ad spaces, targeted to visitors. These and other forms of promotion should be included in the marketing budget, not the wayfinding budget.

Street Banners Street banners are a relatively inexpensive way to enhance an environment. They can support a city brand, create a sense of place or arrival, celebrate seasons, or promote events and venues. Banners can be classified as part of both promotional and decorative groups. Banners are most commonly made from exterior grade vinyl with digitally imprinted graphics. Canvas or Sunbrella™ is used when a banner must endure harsh environments or is required to perform well for several years. But the


A brand-supportive street banner in Russian River, California.

application versatility of graphics on canvas material is limited. We often recommend using two banner sizes. Larger, substantial banners would be hung on tall light standards at primary gateways or entry corridors. These will help announce the entrance into a community and help to excite the visitor. Smaller banners would be hung on pedestrian scale light standards in town centers, special districts and at places where pedestrians gather. As with billboards, comprehension time is limited to a few seconds, so their message should be legible at a few hundred feet and understood within seconds. When you consider working with a vinyl banner company, make sure they offer at least a twoyear warranty. Banners should include UV protection (applied protection against fading due to sun and weather exposure) and structural integrity that will withstand strong winds and extreme weather conditions.

Group 2: Guidance This group includes signs that lead visitors to a community, through it, and to the destinations within it. Three primary sign types are included in this group.

Vehicular Guide Signs Vehicular guide signs are used by drivers to navigate through streets and highways. They play a major role in a community wayfinding system. They serve two functions. First and foremost, they guide vehicular traffic to destinations. Second, they help create a sense of place with thematic or brand-supportive graphics. The first line of wayfinding devices that are part of a wayfinding system (not including web media and electronic messaging), are highway signs under the jurisdiction of the USDOT (United States


Department of Transportation). The form and function of this sign group is strictly controlled and must follow the standards included in the MUTCD (Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices). These control standards facilitate uniformity of traffic control devices across the nation have been adopted throughout the US to ensure the safe and efficient transportation

Typical Green Department of Transportation (DOT) highway directional sign

of people and goods. Uniform messages, location, size, shapes, and colors help reduce crashes and congestion, and improve the efficiency of ground transportation systems. Standardization also helps reduce the cost of fabrication and implementation. Signage located within USDOT jurisdiction cannot deviate from the MUTCD standards,

Standard blue tourist oriented directional (TOD) sign that complies with MUTCD

but the messages may be influenced by application through specific channels. Messaging must meet specific criteria and demonstrate that they add clarity to a driver’s navigation to a qualified destination. TOD (Tourist-Oriented Directional) signs provide roadway users with directional guidance to business, service, and activity

Non-compliant TOD signs in a loosely controlled jurisdiction


facilities available to them during their travels along non-controlled routes. Located on noninterstate, rural highways, they consist of a reflective blue sign panel with reflective white letters stating the name of a qualified tourist-oriented business or activity or qualified historical or cultural feature, together with directional information. While the MUTCD standards seem firm, we have observed that some states or regions have some unique additions to TOD rules, or else interpret the rules loosely. Contact a representative in your area to learn about those requirements. Typefaces other than the standard Highway Gothic or Clearview are rarely approved for use on signs within DOT-managed jurisdictions, but will be considered if they have been tested through an engineering legibility study. Condensed fonts, those that include full serifs, fonts with thin strokes, outlines, drop shadows or graphic embellishments should be avoided. Simple fonts such as Frutiger, Formata, Helvetica and Trebuchet are sometimes deemed legible alternates but are subject to interpretation by local DOT representatives. A relatively new font called Wayfinding Sans Pro is showing up more frequently. It was developed by Ralf Herrmann who traveled across the US and Europe studying fonts used for wayfinding signs. He developed Wayfinding Sans Pro to improve traditional highway fonts, which he believed fall short.

Message Highway Gothic

Message Clearview Highway

Message Wayfinding Pro

We typically default to Clearview Highway when it comes to vehicular guide signs. It insures maximum legibility and increases the chance that custom vehicular guide signs will pass approval. We recommend no more than three or four messages on a single sign. This is in


by Todd Mayfield A wayfinding system is a visual ensemble of signs, landmarks and tangible elements in the built environment. The various elements serve as message delivery systems that connect people with places, both physically and emotionally. Although the design is the delivery mechanism for communicating messages, strategy is the foundation that holds it all together and creates a seamless, functional wayfinding system. Wayfinding was formally identified as a distinct discipline in the early 70’s. Since then it has evolved from the design of communication devices in the built environment to an integrated system of marketing, brand support, online information, experiential messaging, architecture, streetscaping, and landscape design. All of these things are driven by the desire to influence human behavior for specific results. This requires an understanding of how people think and react within their environment: what motivates them, and also what discourages them.


A strategic method of attracting and guiding visitors to your destination(s) can be broken down into four basic levels of focus: 1. Awareness 2. Motivation 3. Facilitation


4. Experience











2 3

Before people even begin to consider visiting your community, they have to be aware of it. This is accomplished by word of mouth or targeted marketing. Word of mouth is always the best form of marketing but is not necessarily a direct result of strategic planning. Brand awareness through web media, print, broadcast or event marketing is the direct method of making people

aware of

your community. The cornerstone of brand awareness is obviously “brand,� with its promise of a unique experience. Once you have established brand awareness, you

motivate people to visit your community

through targeted marketing. The services


of a qualified marketing strategist will give you a strategic marketing plan and a blueprint for a successful marketing campaign. For a marketing initiative to be successful, your brand must be fully articulated. Your online presence (website, social media, banner ads) and traditional communications such as print ads, broadcast and event marketing, must reflect your brand message consistently. Your website is a valuable tool that people use to learn more about your community. It is a key mechanism for creating first impressions and delivering information. The information it provides

facilitates the planning of a vacation or business trip. In addition to community websites and social media sites, a powerful online tool that is growing in popularity is a destination app. These are becoming a key part of destination wayfinding. To help visitors navigate to and through your destination(s), and to create a memorable place

experience , branded wayfinding devices must be in place. A positive place experience will mean longer stays, return visits, and word-of-mouth recommendations. Part of a strategic wayfinding system is hierarchical messaging. This will help you determine which destinations get put on which guide signs. Business owners want their companies’ names on as many guide signs as possible. In the case of pedestrian guides and directories, this is not really a problem; but vehicular guides are a different story. As discussed earlier, vehicular guide signs must include no more than three or four short messages because of the limited amount of time a driver has to understand and react to a guide sign. We have seen several communities that have installed multiple destination “finger� signs in groups of 10 or more. These are often paid-to-display signs that give businesses a false sense of performance. The fact of the matter is they are highly dysfunctional and do more to clutter the


streetscape than to actually guide visitors. When drivers have to spend more than three to five seconds looking at a sign, their eyes are off the road, which may result in accidents. These multimessage signs aren’t just ugly—they’re safety hazards. Even though our business includes the design and implementation of wayfinding signs, we like to see as few signs in an environment as possible. It can be a challenge for communities to apply rational logic to sign messaging. Often personal agendas and political influence drive sign content, and a forest of signs springs up. To help determine which destination gets placement on vehicular guide signs, we follow a simple logic based on hierarchical importance, relative to the proximity of the final destination.


We divide communities into three general area types: 1. Outside of the community 2. Inside the community 3. Regions within the community Each region can have one or more destinations.



The area outside the community is controlled



by the US Department of Transportation; it is almost impossible to customize or change sign guidelines in these areas. The objective of guide


signs here is to guide vehicles to communities. The next area is within the city limits of a community. These signs can be customized as long as they do not occur within USDOT’s jurisdiction. (If they do, they must follow the MUTCD.) The objective of this group is to guide vehicles to regions within the community. The third area includes regions within the community. These regions can be historical districts, retail clusters, downtown centers, industrial areas or any area that can be delineated. These signs will include a 81

combination of destination-specific messages and directions to parking, but the chief objective for guide signs within these areas is to guide vehicles to parking areas (4). Once people are on foot, they are guided by pedestrian directionals and information kiosks to their destination (5). There are exceptions to these rules. Destinations that, by themselves, draw visitors to a community should be highlighted on guide signs well beyond the region they are located. Disney World in Orlando, Florida, Mount Rushmore in Rapid City, North Dakota, and the Black Canyon in Gunnison, Colorado, are all examples of destinations that attract people to a community. All are featured on guide signage well beyond the city limits in which they are located.


Branded Wayfinding For Destinations-SAMPLE  

This is an abbreviated preview of Todd Mayfield's new book, Branded Wayfinding for Destinations. It is available for purchase on (2...

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