Storytelling. And why it matters

One of the first things I will ask a designer when creating a wayfinding masterplan is: “Tell me how this will work.”
It’s a question which delves behind the system itself to reveal the ‘story’ behind the decisions that have led to the wayfinding masterplan. But what is the story? And what do we mean by storytelling in wayfinding.

Storytelling is how we explain to a client the reasons behind each and every wayfinding element in a masterplan. Why have you zoned the space like this, why do staff need to be in this location, why is the sign that size. Storytelling explains every dot, every line, every zone you create. And you should be able to tell the client the story that has led to you making those
decisions: The story of how the visitor to the event or venue will navigate from their departure to their arrival and interaction at the site.

A client will need a designer to have worked on the storytelling so that they can understand the suggestions you have made for their wayfinding masterplan. You need to demonstrate how you’ve reached a certain conclusion – how the designer reached that design response. And it should be the responsibility of the designer to show how they have come to that  decision, as you hold your clients hand through the process, helping them understand why you have suggested to do different things at different points.

Every time a client asks a designer: “Why is that there?”, referring to any part of a wayfinding masterplan, the designer should be able to refer to the story they have created to give a clear and concise answer.When I present my wayfinding masterplans to a client, it’s about why I’ve chosen to do something, and the benefits include:

1) It helps the client understand the stages of the process as well as see the final scheme

2) The client understands from the start what they are getting from the designer

3) The client feels valued and has confidence that they are getting value for money

Understanding what story to tell
There are two types of journeys: open-ended, for example going to a city or museum and saying, ‘I’m going to explore today’, and defined. A defined journey is more usually found in transport, for example, someone needing to get a flight, or going to an event with a definite start time, for example a sporting event. They need to know where to be at a certain point in time, what might happen, and I need to do along the way. I need to know how to start the journey. There are also hybrids – for example, a museum where you want to see a certain exhibition but aren’t sure what else you’d like to do.

Telling the story
There are certain techniques I use to tell a story well and you can use them too. We aren’t talking about the story of the venue – it’s the story of the person’s journey through the venue through the space which creates a bottom line for everyone else’s journey to develop. It’s how the wayfinding scheme fits together in telling that is important for your client to understand, so they are clear from the start about what you are designing for them and what they should expect.
There is also an element of reassurance for the designer, too.

With a clear plan for the storytelling, the designer can refer back to it, and reassure the client about what and why the signs they have chosen. You’re saying ‘this is what we’re proposing, and why we’re doing it’. The end result, when you create a strong storytelling method in your masterplan, is that there are fewer amends and changes. In short, a win-win for client and designer

As a designer, there are several ways you can show storytelling to the client:

Route and event drawings
These show the steps a visitor takes on entering the venue – for example, coming into the ground floor of a department store and what happens at each step.

Typical arrangement drawings
This would work best for multiple venues in one WM, such as a series of train stations on the same line, as we see on the Elizabeth Line in London. Some elements of the plan will be the same (maybe ticket barriers) and others will vary (maybe how lines interchange).

Spider diagrams
Weaving their way through the outline of the venue in stages, spider diagrams allow for the journey to be told in different ways. If we take an airport as an example, a spider diagram might show the passenger moving through check-in, security and onto their departure gate and all the process and amenities they experience on the way

Visual plans
Visual plans follow on naturally from route and event drawing. Once a route or event
drawing is created, visual plans help bring those ideas to life in a format showing the event

Sample Journeys
This is the preferred way for GJ+H – with a sample journey, you are able to show how a visitor group would get from point A to point B. Get this right and then it can be replicated across the entire site. Instead of a designer presenting an entire scheme, and then edit it, using sample journeys make the entire design process more efficient for both designer and

Product frequency
A series of drawings demonstrating how far a sign can be read from, understanding how much information needs to be shown and the speed at which people move. By demonstrating this a formula for how frequently signs are positioned is calculated

If you want to know more about storytelling, get in touch to book a call and find out what GJ+H can offer you.

You can engage GJ+H to review your system. Use the contact button above to start the conversation with us.

Download the GJ+H Wayfinding Workshop course on brief writing