A couple of years ago, I decided to have a garage sale. Besides the little advertisement in the local shoppers’ freebie, and a mention on the local radio station call-in swap show, I needed to guide potential customers to my little venture.
My little house is located in an out of the way part of town that is somewhat difficult to find. I wanted to use a couple of large pieces of old posterboard that were neglected from the back of my closet. As I pondered just how to make an eye-catching sign, my neighbor, Chad, crossed the street to investigate what I was up to.
I explained that I had decided to have a garage sale on the upcoming weekend and I was serious about getting rid of every single item that I was putting up to sell. Chad looked at my posterboards then smiled at me. “You need the services of a good wayfinder.”
I asked Chad to clarify his advice. So he went on to explain that wayfinding is a craft that specializes in helping people navigate and locate places. In other words wayfinding helps people find their way to where they want to go. Chad said he used to work for the City of Scottsbluff (Nebraska) and had once helped install signs for the parks department there.
Chad excused himself in order to fetch a few more posterboards and his staple gun. Upon his return we found some old wooden stakes in the garage. I brought out some left-over acrylic paints and brushes that were no longer needed after a failed attempt at “artistic” painting.
My neighbor told me the secret to excellent wayfinding is stark simplicity. Passersby need only the basic information in the easiest to read style. At the same time, the sign must be eyecatching.
Chad opened the jar of neon orange paint then went to work with one of my widest brushes. In bold, block printing, he spelled out “Garage Sale”. He finished the message with an arrow that stretched from edge to edge at the bottom of the sign. I helped Chad paint three more signs with arrows that pointed the appropriate directions.
The signs were stapled together in pairs onto wooden stakes. We then made smaller signs that said “Garage Sale” with arrows that pointed straight up. The one more big sign to use near my driveway. The first two sandwiched signs were placed at the two most used intersections that accessed my neighborhood. The smaller signs indicated how the customers could find my garage.
Chad’s handiwork did the job because many of my customers stopped out of curiosity. They hadn’t even seen the print ad nor heard the radio mention.
We sipped on ice tea as we waited for more customers to arrive. Chad explained what he had learned when he worked his “wayfinder” summer job as a college student in western Nebraska. The best information is relevant to only the location people want to find. There should never be excess information. “Fancy” design elements are unnecessary and should never be used. Don’t force the reader to think. The message should be clear, concise, and easily comprehended with minimal eye contact. In other words, the best sign tells you what you need to know at a quick glance.
Chad said the best examples of wayfinding are the ubiquitous green highway signs lettered in white paint. There is plenty of contrast and the colors do not readily fade in harsh weather conditions.
Other useful wayfinding technology includes standard maps, Internet services like Google Maps, and GPS devices. Anything that helps people find their way to and from places they want to go qualifies as wayfinding.
Signs, maps, and GPS are so common that most people give little or no thought about the folks who design and create the various examples of wayfinding.
By the end of the day, my garage sale was fairly successful. I only had a few odds and ends to donate to the local thrift store. Chad then asked me to help with his garage sale he was planning for the following month.
The Blue Jay of Happiness likes what the late Keith Haring had to say about wayfinding. “Red is one of the strongest colors, it’s blood, it has a power with the eye. That’s why traffic lights are red I guess, and stop signs as well… In fact I use red in all of my paintings.”