Wayfinding is a term given to express the way in which we try to find our way between places and there are a number of considerations and factors involved in the process of wayfinding and these are reflected in the various definitions.
Wayfinding in the past has incorrectly been defined as an exclusively cognitive process and of decision making, but modern and updated research finds that wayfinding is a complex activity that covers many fields of study including sociology, psychology, human geography, businesS, stakeholder and culture studies. Wayfinding, from a personal agent’s perspective (where we exert the agency), involves certain cognitive approaches and herein lies the historical interest in wayfinding in psychology and cognitive based studies and research. A greater understanding of wayfinding though is now being appreciated with this activity and process one which, for example, is important in sociocultural studies. Wayfinding, rather than being a purely individual process, is a process which takes place in social situations and rarely in a social vacuum. Stakeholders also use wayfinding as a way of guiding us, such as through steering behaviour, in order to maximise capital gains. The intentional strategic use of smells and fragrances to attract a consumer towards a retail outlet is an example of steering behaviour. Wayfinding thus is an activity/process which can be approached from a number of directions from a research perspective.
One of the earliest uses of the term ‘wayfinding’ as one word is from the architect Kevin Lynch in his book ‘Image of the City published in 1960. Lynch (1960: 3) describes wayfinding as:
and focuses on how paths, edges, regions, nodes and landmarks help to guide us through environments. In 1981, Romedi Passini (1981: 17) in his book ‘Wayfinding: A Conceptual Framework’ and as an architect, explained wayfinding in the following way:
Other definitions have evolved since the 1980s, including Golledge (1999 :6) who describes this activity as:
The problem though, with many older definitions, is a lack of focus on the true nature of wayfinding such as posited by Tim Ingold. Places to which we are wayfinding are NOT always static, such as the example Ingold (2011) gives of the Inuits who go hunting for food, i.e. the location they are trying to find moves according to the movement of the animals they are hunting. Seeing wayfinding thus as being about finding one’s way between two static points, as in older definitions, in flawed. Likewise, Fewings (2001) uses the concept of ‘recreational wayfinding’ i.e. whereby the destination is the place you started from.
This definition from Paul Symonds connects the historical and modern way of seeing wayfinding by incorporating both the cognitive and corporeal embodied experience and provides room for the complex nature of wayfinding.
Many people who get involved with wayfinding first think that wayfinding is about signage. Street signs, signage in airports which tell you which direction to take in an airport as you try to find the gate, or the directional signage you find in a tourist attraction telling you which way to go, are a few examples. Wayfinding is far more than signage, i.e it is a more all encompassing field, which includes the design of spaces. Lighting, the use of people to direct other people etc also come under the banner of wayfinding and all provide ways of directing people.
Wayfinding is particularly important for a number of reasons. To provide a few examples: