The Wayfinding Consultants Toolbox: Importance Of Landmarks

It's not just about signs

Published on Wednesday 3 July 2019

Highlighted in Kevin Lynch’s seminal book on urban planning The Image of the City, landmarks play an important role in helping us understand a place. Not only do they provide the datum points that help us build a mental map, we rely on them to find our way round.  Therefore, an audit of the local context to identify potential landmarks should be a key input in the development of a wayfinding strategy.

Use of Landmarks in wayfinding

Landmarks help to humanise and bring colour to navigation and orientation tasks. Ask anyone for directions and no doubt they will pepper their instructions with references to various features along the route.  Be it a pub, school, statue or supermarket, these landmarks are the stepping-stones on the journey that help bring the route to life. Functionally they are the visual cues that confirm we’re going the right way; alert us when we need to take action or act as beacons pulling us in a particular direction.

What Makes a Good Landmark?

To be effective, ‘the thing’ needs to be large enough to been seen from a distance, be distinctive and unambiguous. Compare these attributes with those of more traditional wayfinding aids, such as road names or fingerposts. These visual references are usually limited to the size of the nameplate – visible only at close range.

Landmarks within buildings can come in a range of guises. They can be design features such as lifts, stairs, public art, as well as signs (particularly identity signs). The activity undertaken within a building will also generate its own landmark typology:

  • Shopping centres – the anchor tenants/major retailers;
  • Offices – the reception desk, canteen or facilities such as the post room;
  • Schools – the canteen, gym, head teacher’s office, library, playground.

Incorporating Landmarks within a Wayfinding Strategy

Once identified, landmarks need to be accommodated within the design of the wayfinding scheme. An obvious approach is to include representative graphics on maps or within directional signs, ensuring that the design coincides with the view that people are likely to see en route.

Often a wayfinding designer will create or establish new landmarks as part of the implementation. This could be as simple as threading references to anchor tenants within the wayfinding information for a shopping centre. However, the design of the signs themselves, offers significant scope for creating additional landmarks. Landmarks, that if of sufficient scale and optimally located, will help generate awareness and act as a beacon.

Alternatively, it could involve introducing colour or graphics to create a feature wall. Not only will such differentiators help communicate the character of the brand and add to the overall aesthetic, they will have an important functional role in orientation and navigation.

So yes, landmarks are an important component of any wayfinding strategy. Not only does the consultant have to identify and consider how best to incorporate existing cues into the scheme; they also need to explore opportunities for introducing new landmarks to increase the legibility of the place.

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Large scale graffiti style graphic providing a memory prompt to help returning drivers find their car in this multi storey car park
Landmark Example: Large scale feature graphic in this multi storey car park provides a memory prompt to help returning drivers find their car
Sculpture of minerva at the entrance to Trinity Leeds shopping centre
Landmark Example: Public art at the entrance to this shopping centre, alerts shoppers to the entrance and adds to the overall aesthetic
High level identity sign for Netley Campus
Landmark Example: Large high level identification sign can be seen from afar, and acts like a beacon to those looking for this school and community facility