Finding your way

Why FM should consider wayfinding and signage

Jason Lewis
Jason Lewis

Early on in my career as a wayfinding consultant, I discovered how important my work was to the end user — which includes not only the guest or visitor, but also the facility managers in charge of maintaining the signage and features I have designed.

Meeting with facility management companies and individual facility managers on a number of projects in the final design phases, I realised simple tweaks in design could have a major cost impact later in the product’s design life.

Facility management organisations today are often handed signage and other architectural features that may not be best suited for high-traffic areas, and the resulting wear-and-tear causes a large amount of regular maintenance.

It is then a challenge for the facilities management firm to have an early say in the product design to make the end-use friendlier, and also save time and resources.

Signage in particular is often a last minute addition even on major projects. Unfortunately this results in poorly placed signs, lacking key information and often of a poor quality. A professional wayfinding consultant plans the entire site, from directional signage to building codes and regulations, at carefully planned locations.

The consultant role though goes far beyond design, as wayfinding is essentially a user experience.

The only way to create those experiences is to engage all of the stakeholders, from the client, the architect, and even the facilities management firm. Signage being one of the major components on a site that the public directly engages with, and often touches, must be designed with durability in mind.

As a facilities manager, when working with a consultant who is planning signage for your projects, there are some aspects that need to be considered. Take the use of LED lighting technologies.

Not only sustainable, their long life means less time changing fluorescent bulbs and they provide a much more even light. Costs of LEDs have come down so much over the last few years that we entirely specify LEDs as its initial cost is quickly outweighed with the power and maintenance savings.

Review the signage in terms of maintenance of cleaning. Does it have raised parts that collect dust or even make wiping difficult? Can the materials themselves be cleaned with normal cleaners or do they require special chemicals?

Do the materials show marks and fingerprints easily? Typically a consultant should use non-glare materials which not only hides marks, but also allows guests to read the signs easily.

Consider the finishes as well. Paint, for example, should be of a high quality and durable finish, while metals such as stainless should have brush or hairline finishes reducing visibility of marks and scratches.

Avoid vinyl stickers for lettering at all costs. Although a popular choice by many sign designers and inexpensive, they will be quickly damaged by the public, either mistakenly or through vandalism.

Is the sign accessible for maintenance? Review its connection to the structure, and how maintenance crews will access the sign to make repairs or basic cleaning. Then consider whether parts could be easily replaced. Review how the sign connects to the floor or wall; will this connection be easy to clean and maintain?

Another thing to think about is the placement of signage. Is it obstructing walking paths that may also block floor cleaners? Does the signage clearly indicate secure and back-of-house areas?

Does the signage actually guide the user efficiently? Confusing and misplaced signage means the guests will ask FM staff and security for directions which is quite common. This means staff is spending time not doing their primary roles.

So basically, by getting involved early in the design process and through qualified professional wayfinding consultants, the end result can not only be an efficient site in terms of user experience but also through careful planning and design, annual maintenance costs can be brought down, saving money and time for both the clients and facility managers.

About the author
Jason Lewis is founder and managing director of Limah Design Consultants

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