Using Color for Web Wayfinding

I was first introduced to the term wayfinding from an architectural firm that hired me to help them get on the web years ago. In architectural terms wayfinding encompasses all of the ways in which people orient themselves in physical space and navigate from place to place.

While it can be a holistic and even philosophical design approach it mostly boils down to effective signage. When it comes to vast spaces, such as arenas and airports, color systems are often the most effective means of conveying categories of direction.

In other words, all blue signs refer to the International terminal or club section while all green signs signal restrooms. Frequently these systems also include icons to help further delineate or deepen the association.

Help Me Navigate a Space

The real point of the exercise boils down to making it easy for people to navigate in areas that are usually foreign to them.

When you think about it, a website is much like a large public space frequented by visitors that may not be familiar with the lay of the land. A system of color wayfinding might be very effective way to help visitors navigate a web site more effectively.

Color Wayfinding

What if you developed a family of colors and icons that designated any content that was related to a specific product group or service. You could even create color pattern style sheets and assign them to specific blog post categories.

Colors could be used throughout a site to associate with a specific brand or to help segment the content created for specific target audiences.

The coordinated family of colors and icons is a commonly used branding technique offline that should be considered as a navigation and wayfinding tool online.

Of course there are many other issues to consider such as a universal navigation scheme, consistent placement, and site maps, but color as a wayfinding and branding tool just might be a great place to start.

No matter what system or approach your take, employing usability testing with tools like CrazyEgg, UserTesting.com or FeedbackArmy is also a great idea.

Author: John Jantsch
John Jantsch is a marketing consultant, award winning social media publisher, and author of Duct Tape Marketing and The Referral Engine.