Writing Tip: Wayfinding

Feb 4, 2014 | Better Writing

Now I have a word for it. The Wall Street Journal article, “A Cure for Hospital Design,” introduced me to the term “wayfinding.” Here are the relevant paragraphs.

“Hospitals are realizing they have a design problem as patients and visitors struggle to navigate the maze of the modern medical complex. Confusing layouts and signage add to patients’ anxiety at a time when many are feeling ill and are coming to the hospital to undergo tests and procedures.

Now, many hospitals are borrowing strategies from shopping malls and airports to make it easier for people to get around—a process design experts call wayfinding.”

When I was the Business Manager for a graduate school, I didn’t know the term, but I was responsible for signage on campus. Guiding your reader through a process or explanation isn’t much different. Here are some tips about how to do it better.

Let people know the big picture. On campus, we did that with maps. In a piece of writing you can do it with boldface or techniques to let people scan the document.

Give people helpful details. On campus, we knew it wasn’t enough to tell most visitors the name of different buildings. We needed to tell them what was inside, too. In writing you can use links to give those who want it more detail, such as on the word, “wayfinding.”

Use language that your reader understands. Unless you’re writing only for specialists, use common language. Add definitions if you need to.