Visual Wayfinding Signs that Bridge Language Barriers

by Jayme Nelson

The hallmark of an effective wayfinding sign or directory system is how easily the signage guides visitors to their destination. In an ever-evolving, diverse world that includes people from many different cultures and countries, businesses and organizations must utilize signs and graphics that help transcend potential language barriers.

Symbols and Pictographs

Symbols and representative visuals help forego the need for text. Some symbols and gestures mean different things from culture to culture, so use caution when assessing which pictographs to use. Incorporate universal symbols to promote consistency and clear communication. Using standardized symbols throughout large public spaces and cities, especially hospitals and airports, helps improve safety and the experience of a growing and diverse population.

standardized bathroom signage

Color Coding

The many hues of the rainbow have always been an integral component of human communication. Use colors in your directional signs to reflect the tone and message of what you are trying to say. For example, yellow often indicates construction, green means clean and blue can be calming. Red is associated with caution and conveys the need to stay alert. Color can also be used as a differentiator and visual organizer. Use specific colors to label different departments or floors in a large corporate office, or the geographic areas of a large property or campus on a visitor map.

color-coordinated directory signage

Visibility and Placement

The design and content of wayfinding signs are important, but if the signs aren’t in view or easily spotted, they have no value. To make sure that yours are visible, assess your building or site by both vehicle and foot to determine common viewing points, especially from a distance. Prioritize the placement of directional signs based on high-traffic areas and decision points—parking lot turns, hallway forks and elevator foyers.     

building directory map

Directional signs and graphics should be incorporated into any building, facility or event’s visual communication plan. Design and create signage that can effectively communicate and guide a variety of audiences. Ensure that your wayfinding signs and graphics are doing their job helping people find their way, regardless of their language.