Wayfinding has been described as “the ease with which one proceeds and is facilitated through an environment from one point of interest to another.”

Wayfinding systems can include components such as the layout of building and site, interior and exterior landmarks, views to outside, signage, floor and room numbering, spoken directions, maps, directories, a logical progression of spaces and colour coding.

It is widely acknowledged that wayfinding information can be presented in a range of ways, including using architectural features, graphical features, audible information, tactile features, as well as other sensory cues such as using aromas. Good wayfinding principles will assist all people to move throughout a built environment to their chosen destination. Being able to receive clear unambiguous information in various formats not only benefits those people with low vision or those who are blind, but everyone. This therefore aligns itself well to universal design principles.

A newly released wayfinding draft standard aims to specify the minimum wayfinding design requirements to allow people to enter, navigate in a safe and independent way and then exit a premises. The intent is also to communicate information to people with sensory disabilities, those with cognitive impairment, older people and others with mobility disabilities. Presumably, using non-verbal and pictorial information will also assist people from non-English speaking backgrounds.

Though the standard has been released as a draft document for comment, ultimately the goal is to reference the standard within the National Construction Code (NCC). However, given that the NCC is moving to three-year publication cycles commencing in May 2016, it might be some time before this occurs.

The much-needed standard will provide clarity over what can be seen by some as a complicated area, and even as a draft document, it can still be used to provide best practise design guidance.

The wayfinding system described within the draft standard includes identification of all pedestrian entry and exit points; vertical circulation options (such as lifts, stairs, ramps and the like); wayfinding destinations; wayfinding information points (which might include an information sign, reception desk or a concierge desk); wayfinding decision points; and paths between these components.

Signage is obviously a consideration of the standard and various signs can be used, including audible (spoken messages); directional (at wayfinding decision points, using a combination of words and arrows); identification (actual destination point signage); information boards in premises and at entry points (providing information about a premises or occupants); and with tactile aspects using raised text, a glare free finish, Braille characters and raised pictograms mounted at an accessible height above floor level.

The concept of a ‘wayfinding path’ is also presented in the draft standard, which enhances the current ‘continuous accessible path of travel’ requirements already in AS 1428.1-2009, referenced in both the NCC and the Disability (Access to Premises – Buildings) Standards 2010. This wayfinding path includes “features and finishes which enables the path and associated elements to be detectable, and visually distinguishable from the surrounding surfaces.” The path must also achieve a one-metre minimum width, at least one wayfinding information point, accessible signage and a method to ‘shoreline.’

A shoreline is defined as a continuous physical element providing a detectable edge or outline to assist people with low vision or those who are blind. These shorelines can be provided in different ways, including a vertical wall or partition with a 30 per cent luminance contrasting line along the bottom of the wall; a 30 per cent luminance contrasting line along the edge of the path; a low wall or kerb; using tactile ground surface indicators; or an abutting surface with a differing texture (such as a lawn surface).

There’s been a movement toward providing a more inclusive built environment that is now impacting on how we design public buildings and workplaces. These factors include an ageing population, an omission of prescriptive evacuation provisions for people with disabilities, an ever-increasing awareness of universal design concepts, and changes to disability legislation in 2011. The release of the draft standard should now be considered in all projects to help provide a more intuitive, usable and independent environment for everyone. However, please consider other emerging concepts and technologies that are available when doing so.

For the first time ever, an Australian standard will be released in accessible formats, including PDF and DAISY formats for people who are blind or vision impaired. To download the draft document, please visit the SIA Global website.

The closing date for public comment is February, 15 2016.