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Digital Signage As A "Wayfinding" Technology: Navigating The Maze Of Public Spaces

May 29, 2008
We've all seen the plasma displays hawking products and services in retail outlets, fast-food chains or even atop the pumps at the nearest gas station. Because of their increasing presence in retail spaces, digital signs are thought of primarily as marketing tools, but their potential goes well beyond the promotion of products and services.

The qualities that have helped digital signage find success in the retail environment - compelling, precisely targeted and easily updated content - make it ideal for displaying information of a more . . . shall we say? . . . 'pedestrian' nature.

Increasingly digital signage - the arrays of plasma screens and monitors hanging overhead in the aisles of a Wal-Mart store or the digital signage narrowcasting monitors showing menu items that are available and look to be particularly tasty at a local eatery - is being used to guide foot traffic through the snarl of crowds that can congest department stores, airport terminals and hotel or convention center lobbies.

'Wayfinding' - What It Is and Why It Matters

'Wayfinding is a term that has been around for many years. Historically, it has been used to describe the ways that people orient themselves and navigate from place-to-place. In the mid-1980s, a book called "Wayfinding in Architecture" applied the concept of wayfinding to the about-to-be-built public spaces of the modern building environment. In this context, 'wayfinding' describes the visual cues that are provided to help people find their way and navigate their way around large buildings, campuses and retail centers.

We've all seen traditional, static wayfinding signage - the signposts with multiple arrows pointing people in various directions, the maze of red, green, yellow and blue lines you are meant to follow in order to guide you through a large hospital, the map at the mall entrance indicating, "You are Here". While these signs and devices may be effective in places like hospitals and university campuses, certain businesses need to provide more than just navigation cues. The hotel and convention business is a prime example.

By offering up-to-the-minute information on meeting locations and scheduling changes, digital wayfinding signs ensure that visitors can navigate a large hotel or conference center with minimal stress. One of the main, perhaps the main, advantages of using digital signs and displays for wayfinding purposes is that it uses both visual and auditory cues for navigationn, and is thus multi-sensory and more engaging, and therefore (hopefully) more efficient in directing and guiding pedestrian, or even vehicular, traffic.

How Digital Signage Aids Wayfinding

Conferences are frequently scattered through multiple several meeting rooms in a hotel or convention centre, and sometimes larger conventions are hosted in multiple sites. Traditional wayfinding relied on paper signage , the site maps facilities would (or would not) provide and guest hosts or concierges to help navigate people through unfamiliar surroundings. Hotels would typically display large posters to direct people to meeting rooms. Scheduled events for each room would be listed on a paper agenda outside the room. Guest hosts and staff would direct people who were left with questions as to where they should be.

When changes in the time or location of a meeting occurred, the weaknesses in this paper-based, people-based system became apparent. To announce changes, new agendas had to be printed and manually posted at every meeting room. If there were multiple meetings in a week, staff would have to be updated to deal with the frequent changes, again printing multiple copies of agendas and taking the time to post them. If changes were not made in time, visitors could easily become frustrated and staff overburdened directing conventioneers and conference goers to the locations where they wanted to be. There had to be a better way.

Digital technology solves all of theses problems and offers additional benefits:

- Printing. With digital signs the hotel incurs no printing costs for revised agendas.

- Convenience. There is no rush to post new paper agendas outside meeting room doors. Digital signs can all be updated from one central location.

- Adaptability. Digital signs allow for fast changes of meeting information.

- Guest Experience. People do not want to waste time searching for a meeting room. Easier navigation means an improved guest experience, which is great for business.

- Marketing. Large digital signs can easily be split into sections, posting meeting schedules in one area and marketing messages in the other. Hotels can use the marketing area to promote in-hotel businesses, like restaurants, spas and fitness centers.

Digital signage has transformed wayfinding for hotels and convention centers, making it easier and less costly to manage meeting schedules, and offering new opportunities to market to a captive audience of conference visitors. In retail or commercial environments sophisticated digital advertising software and the arrays of narrowcasting display monitors that utilize the software can be used not only for traditional wayfinding functions - getting people where they want to go - but, increasingly, for helping people decide where they want to go, and what products and/or services they would like to access when they arrive at their preferred destination.
About the Author
For more information on digital signage, narrowcasting and digital advertising software, please visit our website at www.ek3.com or call 1-866-353-8324 to speak to us at EK3 Technologies Inc. about business solutions and services that capture your audience and deliver your message.
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