Digital wayfinding, a remarkable advancement in the digital signage world, wasn’t always so remarkable.

Once upon a time, wayfinding consisted of carving directions into stone or bending a young tree at a certain angle to show the way to an important place.

It worked.

And then the motorcar was built. The world recognized it needed traffic engineers to manage the clunky cars so they wouldn’t crash into each other as they made their way along the dusty roads.

It was these traffic engineers that began to think about sign systems. Before long, road signs, arrows, and exit signs were put up, taking the pain out of exploring unchartered territory.

Today things are much different. I don’t need to tell you that, because you already know just how different they are.

From GPS systems to mobile apps to digital signage, wayfinding has grown. And it’s not about to stop anytime soon. From standing kiosks to mobile apps, wayfinding is leading the way – literally.

So who in the industry is using digital wayfinding? And is it working for those that are using it?

Here are some ways different industries incorporate wayfinding, and how that incorporation is changing the way businesses and organizations are showing up in the world.


1. Digital Wayfinding for Healthcare

This is a big one, so I’m starting with the health care industry first.

How many times have you stepped foot in a hospital and gotten completely lost?

I know I have, and I didn’t enjoy it. There are endless corridors, too many double doors, and dozens of rooms that look exactly the same.

To help us better find our way, wayfinding digital signage has become the industry answer. So much so, that patients and visitors look for the kiosks when they come in. Knowing there is a place they can go to help them find their way eases any anxieties about getting lost.

There’s a big push by hospitals, especially older ones, to step up their game with wayfinding and other digital signage upgrades.

And this doesn’t include just your average stand-alone wayfinding signage. Wayfinding mobile apps are showing up, too.

Take the Sarasota Memorial Health Care System, an 806-bed regional medical center, and one of the largest public health systems in Florida.

They rolled out a wayfinding app to help patients navigate the 1.5 million-square-foot main campus.

The mobile app can do lots of things, including:

  • Offer 2D and 3D maps of indoor and outdoor locations.
  • Easily find the ERs and Urgent Care centers within the SMH network.
  • Search a dynamic directory of physicians and services by specialty, location, or keyword.

That’s advancement from the ol’ etching in stone days, wouldn’t you say?

2. Digital Wayfinding for Airports

 Have you ever been to Chicago O’Hare International Airport?

When I travel, I pray to the Airplane Gods that I don’t have a layover there. It’s like it’s own little country. You could spend two weeks living there and not miss the amenities of home.

Spread logistically (to airport designers, anyway) over 7,200 acres in two counties, the airport campus can be intimidating to some.

To help curb anxiety, the airport uses signs on the walls, floors, and ceilings. But clearly, that still wasn’t enough. It’s only been within the last few years or so that digital wayfinding was incorporated in the airport signage campaign.

Stores, terminals, small shops, eateries, even the post office (yes, O’Hare is that big), can be found with a touch and a swipe.

Both traditional wayfinding signage and digital signage exist at the San Francisco International Airport. Their signage program helps guide 41 million annual domestic and international travelers navigate four terminals, seven boarding areas, and everything in between.

That’s a lot of travelers.

Wayfinding digital signage saves those travelers time and frustration. And in a busy place like Chicago O’Hare, those signs are peace of mind.

3. Digital Wayfinding for Colleges

There are plenty of small colleges campuses in the world, but there are plenty of large campuses, too.

Big or small, wayfinding signage has become a key component for making a good impression on a prospective student, especially during their first visit to the campus.

In the early days of digital signage, colleges used monitors to broadcast presentations or share class cancellations.

They still do, but have moved up in the world of digital signage by adding wayfinding. Three years ago, only a third of colleges were using digital displays. Today, that number has exploded to nearly 70 percent.

The University of Central Florida recently deployed wayfinding touchscreens at their institution. The touch screen maps are located at prime spots on campus.

The really neat part is that a user doesn’t have to stand there and wait for directions if they don’t want to. They can simply tap the kiosk and choose an option to have directions texted to them.

What a concept.

Things change, buildings undergo construction, and classes get canceled. Many wayfinding kiosks can push this information along on the wayfinder to keep students and staff from any inconvenience.

If a sidewalk is being reconstructed or a specific building is temporarily off limits, strikethroughs or brightly colored images will let users know.

4. Digital Wayfinding for Shopping Malls

I was traveling recently and found myself needing to go the mall to get something specific. I really didn’t want to go because I wasn’t familiar with the sprawling shopping center at all, and I had no desire to get lost.

And then I saw a digital wayfinding map that saved me from saying lots of bad words.

Digital wayfinding in shopping centers around the world are saving millions of people from saying not so pleasant things as they navigate unfamiliar ground.

Some malls have had digital signage for a few years now. Others are still working on incorporating it.

Aventura Mall in Miami recently deployed seven interactive digital directories. The 7-inch touch displays show an image of where you are now and where you want to be, plus detailed directions to help you get where you need to go.

Given the mall is 2.7 million square feet, it’s safe to say the wayfinding kiosks and directories were a good idea.

Having said that, it’s not a good idea if the wayfinding kiosks don’t work so well.

Our good friend Dave Hayes of Sixteen-Nine.net had a poor experience with the digital technology at the Dubai Mall in the United Arab Emirates.

It got him wondering if the kiosks were still relevant in shopping centers, especially with wayfinding apps as an option for smartphone users.

We still think so, especially because roughly 30% percent of the general population still doesn’t have a smartphone.

And for the other 70% that do, they either don’t have the wayfinding app, can’t get decent service in the mall, or don’t think about using an app when they know there are giant kiosks all over the place to guide them.

5. Digital Wayfinding for Amusement Parks and Stadiums

Have you ever been to Disney World?

It’s crazy insane.

Without question, this is one amusement park that serves millions with digital wayfinding.

Spanning over 40 square miles, the resort is roughly the size of San Francisco. With four theme parks, two water parks, and 35 resort hotels, this massive place of happiness must lose hundreds of people a day.

There are so many visitors, that the wayfinding campaign at Disney World starts well outside the gates, on area roadways. On these signs, drivers can determine where to go, as the park is divided into several major “districts” to make 40 square miles seem more manageable.

The 1,000-sign system, many of which are digital, makes Disney World easier to explore. Who doesn’t want that?

When I was a kid, baseball stadiums were the mecca of kid-dom. (At least for me.)

The only part that wasn’t very much fun was all the walking we had to do. I know now part of that was because my parents couldn’t always find their way back to our seats after a hotdog or bathroom break.

Today, large stadiums are going beyond traditional wayfinding to provide visitors with an interactive experience to get them back to their seats quicker.

Kiosks are located at key locations to direct sports fans, offering the quickest route back to their seat. With ‘You Are Here’ points to help nail down the mapping, users can go from where they are to where they want to be without issue.

That’s always nice when you go for ice cream and you don’t want it to melt before you come back for the top of the 8th.

Some stadium wayfinders can help you find your car, too. I don’t know about you, but I like that.

Conclusion

Getting lost is not fun. Especially if you’re on a timeline in an unfamiliar place. With digital wayfinding technology at its peak, it’s easier than ever to navigate through the mazi-est of corridors.

Airports use wayfinding to better streamline passengers and help them make their flight on time.

Hospitals and health care centers use wayfinding to get patients to the right doctor in the right wing without any hassle.

Colleges are benefiting from digital wayfinding to impress prospective students and manage current ones.

If you’re considering a digital wayfinding campaign, think about the needs of your customers or visitors.

Do they struggle with navigation?

How have they expressed this to you?

Determine needs first, deploy digital wayfinding second. The rest, as they say, is history.

Where have you seen digital wayfinding outside of these areas and industries? Did you find using them was helpful?