What's the Best Time for City Wayfinding?

We receive many emails and calls from city leaders, practitioners and students around the world. I’ve decided to share some of the responses and added comments with readers of this blog.

This email is from Christine at a small city in Washington State, “Should we proceed with our city’s new wayfinding system before we finish the brand research process that is about to start? Some councilors are asking whether the wayfinding designs might work as our city brand.”

Christine, I would strongly suggest that you wait until the brand research process is complete. Otherwise, this could become a case of placing the cart before the horse! Just as some make the mistake of confusing a logo with a brand, some confuse the design of  a wayfinding system as being their community brand. A brand is much more than a design, and branded wayfinding is more than a series of attractively designed signs.  A branded wayfinding system should be inspired by, and integral to, the city’s brand strategy. Not the other way around!

There is a symbiotic relationship between the brand and the wayfinding system. It 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.

Your city brand is the nucleus around which all communications, including wayfinding and key experiences must revolve. A branded wayfinding system is inspired by the brand platform and priorities, logo, colors, key words, style, fonts, emotional benefits, and personality that should be outlined in your brand manual and visual identity style guides.

Images are of TDM partner, Axia wayfinding assignment in Gulf Shores AL.

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