Community Resources: Better Signage for Better Wayfinding

An SRF planning and implementation guide became a common bible for sometimes-contentious city planners, signage designers, and manufacturers involved in helping people navigate their communities.

Community Resources • Sign Research Foundation

Getting around a city can be as simple as following the signs. But signs aren’t as simple as they seem. City planners have budgets and regulations about size and content to consider. Designers have to think about aesthetics and usability. And manufacturers have their own concerns about materials, timing, and cost.

These three communities were foreign to Sapna Budev, now executive director of the Sign Research Foundation (SRF), when she was on the staff of the International Sign Association (ISA) and began attending conferences on wayfinding in 2013. She discovered that those three communities were closed off to each other as well.

“It turned out that I was in a unique position where I was talking to all three groups,” she says. “There were all of these different areas where people were just a little bit ignorant of each other’s needs, through no fault of their own.”

We put different stakeholders together who normally don’t agree, or consider each other combative, and we show them, ‘You really are meant to work together. And this is how you can do it.’

Budev’s solution was simple but effective: Produce a manual that would explain wayfinding processes in a unified way to each of the stakeholder groups. First published in 2013, The Urban Wayfinding Planning and Implementation Manual has become a bible for professionals looking to create cohesive signage that directs people to area landmarks and attractions. SRF and ISA partnered to cover the costs of researching and producing the document.

To ensure that the right ground was covered, Budev convened peer review and advisory councils for input. That in itself sparked a series of a-ha moments. “The relationship [between these groups] had been contentious,” she says. “But the moment all of these people got in a room together and started talking, it was nothing but, ‘Oh, I see—that’s why that happens.’ Or ‘Oh, that’s why you do that, this is what you have to do.’ There was way more understanding and collaboration.”

And the document struck a chord with the broader wayfinding community, once ISA and SRF announced webinars connected to the manual’s release. Ordinarily, “a good [webinar] session has about 25 to 30 people on it,” Budev says. “When the wayfinding manual was done, we held a series of webinars, and our very first one had 285 attendees. All of the webinars were in the triple digits.”

The insights included in the manual have almost literally hit the streets. “Many city planners have used it as a go-to resource for their city to plan out an entire wayfinding project,” she says. This year SRF produced an update to the manual that includes more details on materials and funding, plus a new focus on digital signage, which has exploded in the past decade. But the goal remains the same: to demystify the processes of sign planning, design, and implementation for everybody involved.

Thanks to the manual, conferences now include workshops that connect those groups together to talk through issues. “We put different stakeholders together who normally don’t agree, or consider each other combative, Budev says, and we show them, ‘You really are meant to work together. And this is how you can do it.’”

(Aaron Foster/Getty Images)

Mark Athitakis

By Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, has written on nonprofits, the arts, and leadership for a variety of publications. He is a coauthor of The Dumbest Moments in Business History and hopes you never qualify for the sequel. MORE

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