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Wayfinding systems boost economic development, Part II

By Carolyn B. Edwards BCC Staff Writer

Roger Brooks uses tourism, downtown development and creative marketing to increase local and visitor spending. During a recent visit via webinar to Bandera, he shared his philosophy of using branding to develop a community with instant recognition by travelers.

One of the keys to developing as a destination community, according to Brooks, is developing a wayfinding system. This organized system of signage and gateways accomplishes a variety of goals that include educating visitors about what the community has to offer and the elimination of confusing sign clutter while increasing revenue.

Brooks offers some rules for efficient wayfinding, including gateways, branding, and readability.

Gateways are important, says Brooks. As an example, he points to the gateways to subdivisions. "These gateways say something about the community inside the gate," he said. "They also increase the perceived value of the community." Brooks suggests communities have gateways (and they don't necessarily have to be at the city limits) that maintain the brand, or theme, of the community. Because a gateway often gives the first impression of a town, care should be taken to maintain its appearance by keeping it clean and landscaped.

Brooks advises paying attention to the location of your gateway. Don't put up a welcome sign in front of a derelict building, in the midst of a clutter of other signs, or "in front of a cemetery."

He stresses the importance of having consistency in the design of wayfinding signage. Every sign should have the same look and feel, colors, shapes, fonts. These design elements should extend to brochures and public relations materials.

Brooks said that many signs contain too much information. "People driving by have four seconds to read a sign." He advises never having more than five items on a sign, and never more than eight words!

Information kiosks are a favorite wayfinding tool recommended by Brooks. "They can be designed for brochure distribution, include QR (Quick Response) codes for people to access with their smart phones, and they are open 24-7!" he said. Kiosks can be free standing structures, or as simple as a rack attached to a wall. "Your public restrooms can become economic development venues when you hang a brochure rack on the wall." Boerne has brochure boxes on the sidewalks all up and down their Haupstrasse shopping district.

Brooks even has suggestions about the lettering on wayfinding signs. "They should be large enough to be read at a distance, a non-serif font, and in good contrast to the background color of the sign."

Brooks says he can guarantee that a community that develops a good wayfinding system will increase retail sales and revenue. "It's one of the most important economic development projects you can do."

Roger Brooks is an At-Large Director of the US Travel Association, marketing expert and speaker. Brooks authored the successful "Your Town: A Destination - The 25 Immutable Rules of Successful Tourism," which provides communities with a summary of the wisdom of his experiences, explaining what works and what doesn't in transforming a community into a destination.