7 Tips to Improve Building Navigation
By Dave Milam
What if next Sunday morning, your church’s entire guest services ministry team didn’t show?
What if you were forced to rely solely on your facility’s design to guide each guest?
Could every visitor navigate your facilities intuitively or would the self-guided experience result in confusion? And what happens to those people, often first-timers, who want to navigate your building on their own and skillfully manage to evade your welcome team each week?
You know it happens.
Strategic “wayfinding” is one of the best ways to create a more intuitive experience and help your guests navigate your facility with ease. Clear directional signs that guide people through ministry environments will set the stage for a positive worship experience for your guests.
Here are seven steps to develop a successful plan to make guests’ experience more intuitive and leave them with a positive impression.
Develop Ministry Districts
The first step to effective wayfinding is to simplify the options by consolidating your ministries into different “districts.”
Grocery stores do this. They group the dairy, meat, and bread into their unique districts. It’s what makes finding ground beef so easy.
Home improvement stores have both plumbing and painting districts. It’s even likely that your socks and jeans don’t live in the same dresser drawer but have their own locations.
And when it comes to technology, some of the most intuitive apps on your phone display only two to four buttons on your screen at a time. The app may organize the library of a billion songs, yet only a few choices are available at a time.
Simplicity makes complexity usable.
If you want to make your building more intuitive, your ministries should be grouped into similar districts throughout your building. For example, children should all be together in a secure district that is visibly different from all the other parts of the building. Additionally, there should be a youth district, music/worship arts district, administrative district, and a district for connecting and coffee.
If ministries indiscriminately sprawl across your campus without clear districting, effective wayfinding is nearly impossible.
Favor Clarity Over Creativity
Guests crave simplicity and clarity. Make sure the names of your environments actually describe what they are.
As a guest, I just want to know where the coffee is and where to drop off my kids. So when you use the Greek word for “coffee” to name the coffee corner or some creative nonsensical phrase to brand your kids’ check-in, it’s not helpful.
Know where to get creative and where to use common-sense design patterns. And when it comes to creating intuitive spaces, always favor clarity over creativity.
If you live on the northwest side of Atlanta, you may be familiar with the “Big Chicken,” and if you’re in Inglewood, California, you’ll know the giant donut that sits atop “Randy’s Donuts.” Landmarks anchor space and create cues that help guests remember where they are.
Have you ever thought about creating some landmarks in your building? When you develop landmarks or change a district’s scenery, it’s much easier to know where you are and where you’re going. If all of the hallways look identical, guests can begin to feel like rats in a maze.
Don’t overthink this one. A group of green chairs in the corner or a series of memorable wall graphics may be enough to quickly galvanize directions into a guest’s memory.
Brand the Environment
Great wayfinding doesn’t always demand a directional sign mounted on the wall. Sometimes the best label is a robust branded space that intuitively directs your guests.
Your main entry door should be unmistakable—no sign required. Four-year-olds should be naturally drawn to your kids’ environment and intuitively know where they belong.
Curate the Perfect Font and Size
Anxious guests will want to quickly scan the text on a sign as they walk into your building for the first time to keep from asking for help. So, it’s critical that you choose the perfect font if you want to improve your wayfinding experience.
Your official brand font may not be the most effective typeface for your wayfinding project. There’s a reason 75 percent of the world’s airports use one of three fonts: Helvetica, Frutiger, and Clearview.
Look for a legible font family—typically sans serif—that includes many different weights. Then, if you can find someone on your staff or a church member who knows how to use Photoshop, give your chosen font a test drive for clarity. Have them lay out the new typeface with some sample phrases, then crank up the Gaussian Blur.
Now, step back a few feet and see whether you can tell the difference between the “O” and the “Q,” the “B and the “R,” and the “C” and the “G.”
After you choose the right font, you’ll need to make sure the text is appropriately sized for viewing. Here’s a good rule of thumb: every inch of letter height provides approximately 10 feet of readability. That means 4-inch letters will allow your signs to be seen from 40 feet away.
Finally, make sure the font rests on a high-contrast background in your design.
Develop the Plan
The sixth step to improve wayfinding is where most projects stall. Planning is where the rubber meets the road, and the hard work really begins.
Grab a copy of your church’s floor plan and start to mark down proper placement for each type of sign: informational, directional, traffic, parking, and rooms.
Have no more than five directional items on one sign. Make sure signs are placed in visible locations, and can be seen in a crowded church lobby. The same goes for parking signs—they should be visible to oncoming traffic.
Don’t Overthink Design
It’s tempting to overdesign a directional sign. I’ve seen “designer’s block” stall out the entire wayfinding project.
Simple, thoughtful design will serve your guests better than any elaborate placard that you could piece together.
You’re not likely to win a national design award on this project, so let it go. Just trust that the sign will do its job by clearly and elegantly pointing the way, and you’ll hit the mark. Clarity is the key.
The hard work you put into your church’s wayfinding will be some of the most valuable work you can do to yield a more intuitive and memorable guest experience.
One last word of advice: Don’t forget to communicate where folks can find the restroom.
Visioneering Studios grew out of the desire for the church to regain a leadership position in culture. Since its inception in 2002, Visioneering has grown into a national faith-based design-build firm offering its suite of services to churches, nonprofits, and commercial businesses alike.