Can people use the wayfinding in this new building?

Testing the usability of maps & signage in a new building before it opens

Can people use the wayfinding in this new building?


The James B. Hunt Jr. Library is a facility that houses NC State University’s second main library and a few other building partners. The complexity of the library, as well as the architectural separation of the building partners, posed some potential challenges for wayfinding. One month before the building’s opening date, I saw a unique opportunity to understand the extent of these issues and initiated a usability study of the maps and in-building signage.


We recruited eight students who had never been in the building to participate in the study. We placed a GoPro camera each student’s head and asked them to complete a series of tasks using a talk-aloud protocol, as we followed them around. At first we asked them to find things without a building map, then we provided two different versions of maps to see which were more usable and desirable.


The GoPro footage we recorded was great for seeing the space from the user’s point of view, which gave us a fresh perspective on a building we had been planning for years. For example, we discovered that the sightlines at the top of the stairs from the 1st floor don’t let you see the entrance to the library space and that some signage, even when noticed and read, wasn’t sufficiently clear for users.

A study participant gestures at a sign that he has read but misunderstood.
GoPro footage showed a study participant reading a sign and completely misinterpreting it.


The main issue we discovered was that most visitors are unaware that there are effectively two separate parts to the building, and that to access library spaces on the 3rd, 4th, and 5th floors, you must first enter the library on the 2nd floor. 7 out of 8 study participants immediately got onto the north elevators from the 1st floor and get lost amongst the building partner offices on the 4th or 5th floors.

An annotated map shows a lost user's confused path
Annotations on the building map show how completely lost some users were.

Video clips of the main issues were compiled and shown at service manager meetings before the library opened. The study results also prompted the Head of the UX department to liaise with staff in the building partner offices to coordinate and strategize on how to direct lost users.


  • Signage was clarified to more explicitly indicate library access (or lack thereof.)
  • Service managers were aware of problems. On high-traffic days (e.g., the first day of classes, special events), they stationed a student worker at the main “pain points” throughout the building to direct visitors.
  • Additional signage was posted at the main “pain point” locations.
Base of yellow stairs, 1st floor, Hunt Library, Raleigh NC
After the study, building maps were made available on the first floor (at the base of the yellow stairs, to the left.)