The Importance of Wayfinding Systems in Urban Areas

Signs aren’t limited to storefronts and interior retail spaces. They are also important elements in urban landscapes. Busy commercial districts, parks, playgrounds and other urban areas typically have signs that perform various roles. Understanding their importance will probably make you take a second look at these signs that you see every day. This article focuses on 5 reasons for the importance of signs in wayfinding in urban areas.

Defining a Sense of Place

The ability to identify exactly where we are is extremely important. Street signs follow specific guidelines stipulated by state and federal laws and help us identify the specific names of streets . There are other signs, however, that can help us identify locations. Municipal wayfinding systems generally identify destinations within a city and provide useful information about each destination. These types of signs create what Kevin Lynch, a popular urban geographer, calls the “legible city”.

Highlighting Complementary Destinations

GPS is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand it helps us easily find unfamiliar locations. On the other hand, it causes us to easily pass by less popular areas that may be equally interesting. A city’s wayfinding program incorporates signs that clearly showcase the museums, retail districts, historical areas, and landmarks that visitors may overlook.

Supporting the Community

A community is a brand. All landmarks, storefronts, business places, and areas of interest within that community should, therefore, create a cohesive image that fits into the city’s brand. Each major American city has architectural standards that must be upheld, promotes the production and display of high-quality commercial on-premise signs, creates distinguishable monuments, and builds mounted identifications and marquees.  Additionally, on-premise signage plays a role in real-estate value and business success. Both factors contribute to the overall financial success of a community.

Controlling Traffic and Parking

Vehicular traffic is a necessary component of a traveler’s commute through a city. Motorists have to be able to easily identify public and private parking lots, road traffic signs, and directions to popular destinations in the city. The movement of traffic also has to be controlled. Appropriate signage is one way to effectively address both areas of concern.

Creating Consistency

Organization and consistency make urban wayfinding easier. A proliferation of mismatched signs and random posters creates confusion in a passerby’s mind. Questions that run through the person’s mind include:

What should I focus on?

Why do I feel overstimulated?

How can I know where to go when I can barely see that sign in the midst of the clutter? I’m confused!

Cities that create a consistent environment make it easier for a passerby to quickly read and comprehend signs.


Urban wayfinding isn’t a job reserved for urban planners. Each person in the community plays a role. Ensure that you research the sign and building regulations of your area before building your space or creating a sign. Make a positive contribution to your community.

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