Wayfinding encompasses all of the ways in which people and animals orient themselves in physical space and navigate from place to place. Historically, wayfinding refers to the techniques used by travelers over land and sea to find relatively unmarked and often mislabeled routes. Urban planners borrowed the term in the 1960s, where they defined wayfinding as “a consistent use and organization of definite sensory cues from the external environment”. In 1984 environmental psychologists expanded the concept to include signage and other graphic communication, clues inherent in the building’s spatial grammar, logical space planning, audible communication, tactile elements, and provision for special-needs users. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wayfinding]
Universal Design New York, defines wayfinding as “the organization and communication of our dynamic relationship to space and the environment. Successful design to promote wayfinding allows people to: (1) determine their location within a setting, (2) determine their destination, and (3) develop a plan that will take them from their location to their destination. The design of wayfinding systems should include: (1) identifying and marking spaces, (2) grouping spaces, and (3) linking and organizing spaces through both architectural and graphic means.” This is a great resource that provides guidelines for how “people use circulation systems to develop a mental map.” [www.ap.buffalo.edu/idea/udny/section4-1c.htm]
I was first exposed to the ideas of wayfinding many years ago in my fine art days when my studio was in the same building with architects, photographers, glass artists, and, among other things, a firm that designed wayfinding for hospital and other architectural settings. I cannot help but think that these early exposure to wayfinding has affected the way I became interested in information architecture and how I think about navigating a website, application, device – and space.
If you are really interested in designing great customer experience then I encourage you to learn more about wayfinding.