Wayfinding Case Study: Detroit River Walk

The Detroit River Walk is a 5.5 mile path from downtown Detroit to the Belle Isle bridge. Other than a small area adjacent to Hart Plaza there has never been access to the river. The Detroit River Walk Conservancy has been responsible for raising funds, acquiring the property, designing and implementing two major plazas and the walkway and continuing maintenance.

Wayfinding Challenges

The challenges for a high profile public community project are always inflated. 

  1. Unlike most projects that have limited entry points the River Walk has an infinite number of entry points. 
  2. It was critical to instill a sense of security, visitors that are lost don't feel safe or secure. 
  3. Being lost also increases frustration and dissatisfaction. While this is always a concern, a project that is so dependent on public support is particularly sensitive to these issues. 
  4. Visitors need to find amenities like restrooms, plazas, food service and playgrounds quickly and efficiently.
  5. Visitors need to find their way back to their entry point, this is not as easy as it seems on a walk way that lacks significant memorable landmarks.
  6. It was important to be able to clearly present our wayfinding strategy to multiple community groups that included donors, city officials, downtown community organizations, neighborhood residents, and churches. All opinions were considered and incorporated if possible.

Wayfinding Solutions

Our wayfinding strategy was to place a large directional sign adjacent to the foot of each of the north/south streets that intersected the River Walk. See the map below. We placed the name of the street at the top of the sign which helps visitors recall their entry point and helps them know where they are located along the path. If a visitor doesn't know the sequence of streets they can consult one of the many you-are-here maps. The body of the signs have information leading visitors to major destination like the plazas.

The graphic shown below was created to allow us to present the wayfinding strategy to the community. It also allowed us to show the design of every sign with it's messages. With one large document we were able to present the sign design, wayfinding strategy, messages, and sign locations. This document was 12' long.

Site Plan rendering.jpg

Wayfinding Presentation Document Close-up

Wayfinding map detail.jpg