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by Zhaleh Moulaei, Intern Architect AIBC, VIA Architecture Vancouver

Have you ever experienced the excitement that comes from discovering something that used to be almost invisible to you? Then you start to see it everywhere and contemplate its importance?

That’s my story with wayfinding. A TransLink wayfinding project that I began working on at VIA revealed a whole new world to me: the world of wayfinding.

Now, when I think about connected communities and walkable, transit-oriented cities, the picture is not complete, or is rather dysfunctional without wayfinding elements in it– those small organs that make the whole system work the way it is designed to work. We can design cities that are perfectly connected with different modes of transit, and yet, if we fail to assist users in finding their way from Point A to Point B, our system has failed. This layer of information architecture is as important as the orchestration of the rest of the system.

Wayfinding Through Time

For thousands of years, humans have needed to be directed on where they need to go. The concept hasn’t changed, only the techniques and the materials used. As we became more civilized and our cities more complicated, so did the need for more sophisticated ways of directing people.

In 1960, urban planner and teacher Kevin Lynch coined the term wayfinding in his landmark book, The Image of the City:

“To become completely lost is perhaps a rather rare experience for most people in the modern city. We are supported by the presence of others …