Wayfinding: An Interview with Katie Osborn

Katie Osborn, Principal and Chief Designer of Via Collective; expert wayfinding strategist

Katie Osborn, Principal and Chief Designer of Via Collective

Katie Osborn, Principal and Chief Designer of Via Collective and expert wayfinding strategist, took some time out of her busy schedule to connect with SWA’s Victoria Lanteigne on the importance of wayfinding and to debunk the myth that wayfinding is just signage!

Victoria Lanteigne (VL): Can you define wayfinding?

Katie Osborn (KO): At a basic level, wayfinding is utilizing tools and cues to help people navigate seamlessly from point A to point B. However, wayfinding strategies are complex and can include signage, maps, architectural features, lighting, floor patterns, customer service representatives, digital apps, and more. Proper wayfinding will enhance a visitor’s experience based on the sense of ease with which they can access all points, elements, and features of a space.

VL : What is the link between wayfinding and Universal Design?

KO: Universal Design aims to improve the built environment for all users. That is exactly what we are striving to do with wayfinding strategies. Successful wayfinding offers a wide range of options that are comfortable and intuitive for everyone. Furthermore, a huge element of wayfinding is personal choice in how you get to point B, which allows for a lot of flexibility – a key component of Universal Design.

VL: Why is wayfinding important for people with disabilities?

KO: Oftentimes people with disabilities experience an added level of anxiety or fear that they won’t be able to safely navigate their environment. Wayfinding is all about meeting users where they are at, rather than targeting the ‘average user’. Proper wayfinding enables people of varying abilities to connect with their own preferred way of navigating spaces, thus allowing them to feel more confident and comfortable – and, hopefully, enhance their user experience.

VL: What is the best approach to incorporate wayfinding strategies into a project?

KO: Wayfinding needs to begin as early as possible, preferably in the schematic design stage. Often different groups own different parts of the process. For instance, facilities own the signs, marketing owns the customer experience, operations owns the database and IT owns the functionality of the technology. It takes a multidisciplinary approach so we need everyone on board: marketing, developers, architects, management, operations, IT departments, etc. We always say that the customer experience belongs to everyone!

 VL: If you could tell architects one thing about wayfinding, what would it be?

KO: Well, sometimes architects are resistant to wayfinding because they don’t want to compromise the integrity of their design – I get that. But the fact of the matter is that architecture is a key element of wayfinding, such as proper lighting, open sightlines, vertical circulation paths, etc. The more intuitive your design, the less wayfinding you’ll need.

VL: How do you know when you’ve successfully incorporated a sufficient amount of wayfinding elements into a project?  

KO: Well, [laughs] I always say if I did my job well; no one knows I did my job. Wayfinding should be seamless, easy, and usable without the user even realizing it.

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