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Wayfinding and signage

Well-designed signage provides additional textual, numeric or pictorial information to complement colour as a way to navigate an office space.


In government office buildings, use signage and information to enable people to clearly understand the layout, function of a space, and allow them to find their way around independently. Signage and information should be usable, informative, simple and easy for everybody to understand.

We highly advise displaying the street number of the building somewhere plainly visible, as this is commonly used to locate buildings.

For multi-storey buildings, the use of colour to differentiate individual floors is often used to assist with navigation of lift lobbies. This should not negate the need for clear signage as well.

Naming rights

Government does not seek to purchase naming rights for leased office building. Naming rights are typically owned by the building owner and can be included as part of a package deal for leasing an entire building. Any changes to a building name should not conflict with an agency’s existing contractual naming rights obligations under their existing lease. If there is an opportunity to rename a building, agencies can consult with local Iwi and be gifted a name that considers the history and links to the location of the building. As part of the blessing of the building the gifted name would be unveiled.

Types of signage

In accordance with NZS 4121, signs have three functions:

  • Informative: advising about availability of facility or service
  • Directional: directing to a specific facility
  • Locational: identifying the place where the facility is provided

NZS 4121:2021 Design for access and mobility: Buildings and associated facilities - Standards New Zealand

Bilingual signage

It is recommended to follow Te Puni Kōkiri’s Bilingual signage guide and the glossary for common Māori terms when planning signage requirements. The New Zealand Government is committed to supporting Tikanga Māori, and ensuring all signage supports this commitment is an important step. The signage guidelines include four key principles:

  • Responsive and accessible services
  • Visibility of language
  • Equality of languages
  • Quality of language.

Support services are available to agencies, particularly for language support, correct dialect including access to case studies and language experts. Contacts for these support services are listed in the Bilingual Signage Guide.

Māori-English bilingual signage - Te Puni Kōkiri Ministry of Māori Development

Usage of braille

The accessible signage guidelines - Fifth edition recommends braille, high contrast tactile print and large print signage in all public accessed buildings and spaces. These guidelines recommend best practice for the design of signage used by people who are blind, deafblind or have low vision.

While the implementation of both the bilingual and accessible signage guidelines are not mandated or legislated, we strongly encourage agencies to include a combination of both guides in their office signage as this approach benefits everyone using the office space. Be mindful of installation to ensure the signage is accessible.

Accessible signage and buildings guidelines - Fifth edition - BlindLow Vision NZ

A sign showing Te Reo, English, then Braille all in the same place.

Shown here is an example of te reo, braille, and accessibility signage.

DeafSpace considerations

DeafSpace is the approach to architecture and design that is primarily informed by the unique ways in which deaf people perceive and inhabit space. Deaf people are limited to receiving information through auditory channels and mainly rely on the peripheral, visual environment to obtain information.

Why DeafSpace Now? - DeafSpace weebly.com

DeafSpace Campus design and planning – Gallaudet University

Here are some items to consider when allowing for DeafSpace within the office environment:

  • Transparent or opaque glazed walls and doorways with appropriate frostings to see if other people are approaching
  • Encourage natural and diffused light while eliminating glare and shadow patterns
  • Allowing enough space in thoroughfares to allow people to sign, side by side, without obstacles
  • Avoid colours that match skin tones
  • Reflection elements, particularly adjacent to signage can assist in knowing if someone is approaching from behind
  • Provide open plan offices, minimise reverberation and background noise though a combination of acoustics and using the Government Property Group's eight principles of workplace design

A range of images showing the ways that sound can travel in and around an office. Each example shows ways we can change our designs to either dampen or enhance sound, based on your needs.

A range of images showing the ways that sound can travel in and around an office. Each example shows ways we can change our designs to either dampen or enhance sound, based on your needs.

Above are some graphics visualising how sound flows in office environments, and how we can make changes to our buildings to both enhance and stifle assorted sounds as need be.

Neurodiversity accessibility

Neurodiversity refers to variations in the human brain when it comes to mental functions in a non-pathological sense. This includes, but is not limited to social cognition, attention and learning. The variations in neurodiversity also include higher abilities in the aforementioned areas than the average population. It is important to recognise that just like how different people can glean different knowledge from the same point of reference, different individuals can have a range of reactions to certain audio, visual, and tactile stimuli.

When designing spaces, be mindful of the following complications and their possible solutions:

  • Include sound baffling where possible to mitigate chaotic background noise
  • Minimise reflective surfaces where they aren’t needed to cut down on visual overstimulation from light sources
  • Avoid a wide range of colours, opting instead for gradients and simple reoccurring patterns
  • Consider creating spaces that contain a collection of common elements throughout the office environment. This can help produce a sense of visual ‘order’
  • Place centralised ‘landmarks’ such as a kitchen space or a stairwell which can be seen as a foundation to orient oneself with
  • Think about how the office environment might be when it is fully ‘alive’, noisy with people, kitchen noises (crockery, coffee machines, etc) and photocopiers
  • Consider designing a range of areas:
    • catered to collaboration (meeting rooms, kitchens, break-out rooms)
    • quiet workstations where neurodivergent people can concentrate on their work and perform at their best away from distractions (quiet single pods, quiet offices for a handful of people in an enclosed space).

Symbols and arrows

The use of symbols is beneficial to people whose first language is not Māori or English, and people who have learning difficulties. Symbols universally recognised, such as the standard public information symbols, may be used in place of text. Where other symbols are used they should be accompanied by text and are particularly beneficial on bilingual language signs to enable quick recognition of information.

Pictorial assistance, such as arrows, are essential for directional signs. Arrows need to be consistent throughout a system of signage. Where signs include a list of destinations, such as on a directory sign in an entrance area, arrows should be arranged in the following order:

  • Where a number of destinations are located in the same direction, group them together on a sign and share a single arrow
  • The position of arrows on a sign in relation to the location name should correspond with the direction in which it is pointing
  • Placement of an arrow in relation to the name reinforces the directional information
  • Repeated arrows are likely to clutter a sign and make it more difficult to read.

An example of universally recognised wayfinding symbols that are commonly seen in and around offices. These are the types of images that should accompany text when creating proper signage.

Typography and lettering

The New Zealand Government identity uses Ideal Sans as its primary typeface. This typographic personality helps reinforce the tone of government messaging; not overly formal, easily accessible and approachable, while still being confident and genuine. The humanist, handmade nature of the letterforms is accentuated by thicker weights and imbues the government wordmark with a kind of Kiwiana aesthetic.

Alternative typeface, for general usage, outside of designed artefacts when Ideal Sans is not available, Source Sans Pro will be used. This font is available throughout all Microsoft office products.

Adhere to the following key principles for accessibility:

  • make body size 12 point type the minimum size recommended for a general audience and 16 point is the minimum size recommended for people with vision impairment/low vision, or people with learning disability
  • large or complex serifs may reduce legibility and should be avoided
  • avoid highly stylised or simulated handwriting and typefaces
  • typefaces are available in different weights. Avoid light options as there is less contrast between paper and text
  • avoid italics, which can be difficult for some people to read
  • bold type can be used to emphasise text
  • avoid using all capital letters in words for non-building code signage. The human eye recognises the shape of words and a word in all capitals is harder to recognise
  • use a typeface that makes numerals distinct
  • avoid using text over images or patterned backgrounds
  • make sure there is a strong contrast between the text and the background

For additional information, refer to accessible design for print - Ministy of Social Development Te Manatū Whakahiato Ora.

Legibility distance and positioning

Legibility distance dictates lettering size for people to become aware and recognise a sign from a given distance. NZS 4121:2001 Design for access and mobility - buildings and associated facilities provides the minimum standards for viewing ranges and positioning.

NZS 4121:2001 Design for access and mobility - buildings and associated facilities - Standards New Zealand

Main directory board and kiosks

Main directory boards are a point of orientation information upon entering a building. Electronic main directory boards can solve the issue of containing large amounts of information while displaying only as much as a viewer needs, and can absorb at any given time. Consider staff with visual impairments and ensure the board is in a prominent location, the display is at a suitable height for interacting and reading, and the contrast of text on the display is large and high contrast with minimal to no background. Also consider displaying New Zealand Sign Language on electronic main directory boards, as they can be animated to accurately communicate in ways static images cannot. This could be displayed as a ‘welcome to the agency’ video message.

The following principles apply to directory and map design:

  • Te Kawa Mataaho (Public Service Commission) prescribed New Zealand Government Identity should be the primary signage, followed by agency signage
  • A digital directory board can be updated easily and can be used to display greetings for visitors
  • Do not place information too high for it to be used. 1700mm above floor level is generally acceptable as the maximum height for information to be placed (depending on the size of the text) but this will exclude use by people who use wheelchairs and people of short stature. Where digital directory boards are at table height, this issue increases accessibility
  • Organise the directory alphabetically for a single storey building or by building level for multi-level buildings
  • Keep terminology simple. If an agency or branch is known by the general public by a certain term, use that term
  • The signage should be sized to ensure its visibility to all entering the building
  • Signs should be located with sufficient space to allow viewing by a number of people around the signage without impeding circulation.

The use of site maps is less useful for main directory boards in multi-level situations due to the added conceptual complexity. In addition, complex or overly detailed maps have a tendency to require more frequent updating and can provide more confusion than clarity. The use of maps, in most circumstances, is not recommended as the central or key component of wayfinding. Maps are generally supplementary and for orientation at each building level.

Reception kiosks are a good way to manage security, speed up reception time, and automatically notify workers when external visitors arrive.

Be mindful when installing main directory boards and kiosks that they allow for various heights and use appropriate colours in order to meet accessibility needs.

A photo showing a reception area with a large digital directory board. It has the secondary branding of two departments on it, and sits in the center of the walking space.

An example of a main directory board.

Interior site maps

In large, multi-storey buildings, where visitors may not be familiar with the layout, a floor plan or map should be displayed near the lift lobby on each level to enable people to orientate themselves. Care should be taken to ensure the details depicted are not unnecessarily complex.

Be consistent and wherever possible, group the destinations, such as at organisational levels or neighbourhoods used in a flexible working environment. The use of tactile maps provides valuable orientation and wayfinding information for people with visual impairments.

Please be mindful when installing interior site maps that they allow for various heights and use appropriate colours in order to meet accessibility needs.

An example of an interior site map, split into simple shapes with distinct colours splitting the floor up.

An example of an interior site map

Notice boards

Dedicated notice boards should be installed in utility areas near printers. The purpose is to display brief, important and non-formal messages that are mostly intended for staff.

Agency facility management teams should discourage staff from installing notices in other areas of the office environment, as this can result in the office looking cluttered and can interfere with wayfinding and accessibility, particularly for new visitors or individuals with visual impairments.

Notice boards, however, should not be the only means to communicate these non-formal messages. Digital messaging using internal email addresses or other digital communication technologies are both more convenient and more accessible.

An example of a notice board, populated with a range of different notices

An example of a notice board.

Fixed and temporary whiteboards

Whiteboards are not only useful in enclosed meeting rooms, but can also be used in collaborative spaces for teams to carry out brainstorming or project based activities. Whiteboards can either be fixed to the wall or use portable stands on wheels. If they are fixed to the wall, it is recommended that they are not located near quiet or focus areas. Also be mindful of the height you place your whiteboards, as they need to be utilised by all workers including those with accessibility needs. As mentioned within the section on noticeboards, we recommend against using methods such as post-it notes or pinned sheets of paper for collaboration, as it looks unprofessional.

A freestanding whiteboard with a few magnets, markers, and a duster. The freestanding nature of the whiteboard means it's easier to move around the room as need be.

An example of a freestanding whiteboard.