New Jersey Wayfinding
New Jersey is the most densely populated and most culturally diverse state in the nation with more roadways per square mile than any other state. Because of the diversity of people, cultures, geography and tourist destinations, New Jersey is the perfect candidate for a statewide wayfinding plan.
Celebrate NJ!, a non-profit organization, recognized this need to organize and promote the assest of their state, and began to champion for a seamless, systematic statewide wayfinding system. In 2008, MERJE, renowned iconographer Lance Wyman, Wansoo Im and Celebrate NJ! began the process of creating a framework that organizes the state and highlights all of its assets. It sets out to support the state’s tourism industry by establishing a sense of place and by highlighting the unique characteristics that are New Jersey.
The wayfinding approach is to make all of the important points of interest easy to find and reduce the traveler’s frustration of traveling in unfamiliar neighborhoods without creating unnecessary and confusing sign clutter.
A successful, statewide wayfinding system begins with a consistent visual system that provides consistant and clear directions and distinctions. This can include everything from physical signs, GPS systems, cell phones, the internet, maps, print materials, and clues in the physical environment. Understanding how travelers plan, think, and arrive to their destination allows us to plan for a more seamless experience.
The key principals identified at the start of the State of New Jersey Wayfinding Master Plan, include: identifying and consistently marking entry points with Gateway signage that includes wayfinding zones that orient travelers to their position within the state; establishing statewide wayfinding zones based on geography and context with unique, easily recognizable icons that unify and identify each zone; linking County and local signage with TODS signage (the blue, rectangular signs on state highways) and using them to primarily promote New Jersey’s attractions (consistent with the original intent of the TODS program); and linking all forms of mobility (e.g., public transit, bicycle paths, cars, Park & Ride lots) with vehicular travel.
So where does one begin in tackling the issue of wayfinding for an entire state? Start with the big picture then focus in on the details. How do people arrive to the state, what questions do they ask themselves as they travel the state’s roadways? Providing a consistent welcome message on each of the primary, secondary and tertiary roadways clearly answers travelers first question – Am I in New Jersey? Next, what part of New Jersey are they in? Six wayfinding zones were created to divide the State of New Jersey. This approach to establishing six wayfinding zones was to create a simple and memorable map pattern that is absent of political, official or functional boundaries.The objective is to provide a universal link in the chain of wayfinding information that travelers can understand and visualize. The zones are named to remain consistent with cultural and historical references – Skylands, Capitol, South Jersey, North Jersey, Shore and Southern Shore. Icons were developed for each zone to clearly and simply establish each area and provide a single element that can be used on signs, maps and promotional materials.
Once travelers know and can identify which zone of the state they are in, the next step is guiding them to their destination. Most cultural, historic and tourist destinations are within a municipality. So, how does a state-wide system connect with the scores of cities, towns and neighborhoods within its boundaries? The most important strategy for gaining support at the local level, is emphasizing the underlying philosophy of the master plan – it is not just about pretty signs for visitors; it’s about increasing economic prosperity by bringing each visitor to their destination with ease: shoppers, business travelers, commuters, and recreational adventurers. While the end result of a wayfinding program is signage, at its core it’s a marketing project. The signage is a tool to promote the points of interest within an area. Other systems currently in place have shown that the addition of a wayfinding program in an area had a direct benefit to the area’s smaller, second tier destinations.When we can achieve a seamless journey for the traveler, taking them through the state and directing to the front door of their destination,the most local entities benefit – downtowns, historic sites, cultural venues, and public facilities. And all translate into economic benefits and increased tax revenues.
Even though a state-wide program is being created, the Master Plan is not meant to create a “cookie-cutter” standard for every city, town and neighborhood. The overall objective of the master plan is to allow each signing region to capture the character, uniqueness and culture of the town while at the same time coordinating with the larger philosophy and meeting the stringent standards of Federal and NJDOT for legibility and consistency. By establishing signing regions we can promote the fact that there is a lot to do in an area and provide a larger coverage radius for local tourism and the region’s overall brand equity. Additional benefits of creating a regional wayfinding program include the opportunity to maintain and promote the regional brand message to travelers in the State.
For example, recent urban and community wayfinding systems have been created independently of the Master Plan, lead and supported by local organizations, while still adhering to the Plan’s regulations and recommendations. In Englewood, New Jersey, a brand mark and signage system was designed to highlight the diverse culture and offerings of this North Jersey city. Murals, pedestrian gateways, vehicular directionals, and park welcome signs were designed to celebrate the individuality of the city, while promoting its assets. In Elizabeth, New Jersey, interpretive kiosks are being placed around the downtown core to highlight the historic houses of Elizabeth, and educate visitors on the great impact Elizabeth has had in our nation’s history. In Camden, New Jersey, a bold and colorful map was designed as part of the city’s pedestrian wayfinding system. The map directs to the many cultural destinations on Camden’s waterfront, gives daily and event parking information, and shows the connection between Camden and Philadelphia. Each of these New Jersey municipalities has used wayfinding and signage to their advantage in very different and unique ways. These programs exemplify how local entities can use the Master Plan to promote their brand, local character and tourist offerings.
From, the boundary of the state to the front door of the destination, the state-wide wayfinding system, helps guide visitors through and around New Jersey. By taking a comprehensive look at all levels of wayfinding the entire state, can be broken down into five distinct levels: Interstate Highway signage, signage along State and County roadways, and local wayfinding programs, information hubs, and electronic web-based media.
The MUTCD provides clear and definitive design and sign guidelines for all instances of highway signage. From a design standpoint, there is little than can or should be deviated from. The opportunity comes in terminology and specifically the incorporation of “Zone” nomenclature and the use of graphic icons. Terminology of level one signage should also be considered and coordinated with as level two and level three programs are established.
The TODS (and LOGOS) program offers a new opportunity to extend the idea of zones/icons, by maintaining the required TODS design but adding the zone iconography. This continues the concept of zones and helps to connect tourist attractions and service destinations to specific zones. It is recommended that the terminology used on all level two signage be coordinated with the terminology used on highway signage as well as the terminology used for tourist attractions and urban districts in level 3.
Cities and local municipalities should continue to offer unique wayfinding programs that capture the character, uniqueness and culture of the town. Elements such as the zone icon can be incorporated into gateway and other trailblazer type signage. It is recommended that Cities and Municipalities coordinate the terminology used for various points of interest and tourist attractions and urban districts with the terminology used on both levels one and two.
Orientation Maps and Kiosks at Pedestrian and Transportation Hubs, similar to the one from Jersey
City shown here are opportunities to link to and coordinate with the wayfinding system. This level of information can reorient visitors and provide an overall comprehensive look at the information available to a visitor.
Electronic and web-based information can be used in pre-travel planning or even on the go through the hand held technology available today (GPS, iPhones, etc). It is extremely important the routing and terminology be coordinated with all other levels of wayfinding information.