How building users process information and make decisions

The design of the built environment should avoid causing stress to building users, and help them make rational choices for their well-being.

The built environment

Environments which are visually complex, or have too much visual or auditory stimulation can be distressing for some, making it difficult for them to be aware of relevant information. Not only does this mean that they become less efficient in achieving their goals but it also affects their perception of hazards which has health and safety implications.

Design considerations

  • Simple, logical layouts
  • Quiet areas away from crowds
  • Waiting rooms where seating is not all in close proximity
  • Good ceiling heights
  • Corridors with varying widths
  • Shorter corridors preferably without dead ends
  • Wayfinding information that is provided in a timely and uncomplicated manner
  • Good colour contrasts
  • Tactile surface changes
  • Good even lighting levels 
  • No large open spaces without clear detectable continuous accessible paths of travel

Design elements

The built environment should be easy to understand and use, with standardised features and predictable details that assist first time building users.

Building users differ in the way they process available information. As a general rule, keeping the elements and details of the built environment as standardised, predictable and simple as possible will benefit everyone.

Design considerations

Include design elements that help building users to understand and use the built environment. For example:

  • Logical layouts with standardised features
  • Doors and controls where the operation is easy to identify
  • Designs and finishes appropriate to building users’ age and culture
  • Colour schemes that reflect the use of a space
  • Lighting which resembles natural light as far as practical
  • Levels of illumination on the walking surface which will not be mistaken as a change in floor level. 
  • Standardised unambiguous symbols and words on signage
  • Where possible, limiting changes within an existing environment to small scale alterations implemented incrementally
  • Vision panels in solid doors where practical
  • Finishes that are not shiny or reflective

Navigation and wayfinding

The built environment should be designed to be as simple and logical as possible with information presented to allow all building users to make appropriate wayfinding decisions.


Visitors to a location are likely to arrive with some form of mental model of the place they are approaching. This mental model may be limited if they have no advance information, theoretical if they have obtained prior information from maps, guides, web-sites or invitations, or developed from their memory if they are a returning visitor.

Wayfinding problems can be experienced when a building user’s mental model differs from that encountered on the ground. In some cases this mental model cannot be built on due to the lack of suitable and accessible information onsite.

To plan a route, building users need to know both the location of their destination and where they currently are. This should be achievable independently without input from others. The more difficult this is the more stress building users will experience.

Knowing where facilities are located is essential to minimise "hit or miss" searching, having to ask for assistance or requiring undue effort which is important for those with limited strength or endurance.

Information appropriate to the decision making process, including confirmation that the building user is going in the right direction, needs to be available in the correct locations.

Consistent information throughout a site makes navigation easier and reduces confusion and stress.


When someone returns to a previously visited location, their memory of barriers, details and features can assist in the wayfinding process. Many people who are blind or have low vision may have to rely on memory to navigate. While landmarks and memorable elements are important to incorporate into any design, the environment should cater for a first-time visitor with no previous knowledge or experience.


Diagonal and curved routes can make orientation difficult. Wayfinding is much easier with right angled designs.

In wide open spaces such as large lobbies leading to different activities, people who are blind or have low vision can benefit from clear pathways that can be conveyed by tactile means using changes in floor surface.


New technologies are now developing that can provide localised way finding information to people who are blind or have low vision. These can include the use of phones but this type of technology should be in addition to and not replace physical wayfinding information.

Design considerations

  • Plan the overall arrangement of access routes to be logical, understandable, useable, and as straight and direct as possible.
  • Ensure that information about all methods of travel through the built environment (e.g. stairs, ramps, lifts, escalators, travellators) and their respective locations are easy to find and able to be accessed by all building users.
  • Make wayfinding information available at decision points and orientate it in the direction that the building user is facing. 
  • Signage should be accessible and positioned appropriately for viewing height, detection and decision making.
  • Install non-visual features such as audible and tactile devices to convey important information about the site to users who are blind or have low vision.
  • Ensure building users are able to maintain visual contact with key features to confirm their routing is correct.
  • Restrict signage to that required to travel to the next decision point to prevent overload.
  • Ensure that wayfinding plans are uncluttered and clearly indicate the building user’s current position.
  • Identify constraints to full accessibility and provide appropriate wayfinding guidance to alternative routes.
  • Provide visual, tactile, auditory and olfactory cues to enable building users to easily identify their current position.
  • Divide large open spaces into smaller spaces. Where this is not possible, provide tactile pathways to assist people who are blind or have low vision.
  • Make available appropriate technology that assists wayfinding.

Building Code requirement

Building Code clause F8 Signs:

F8.2 Signs must be provided in and about buildings to identify: (a) escape routes, (b) emergency related safety features, (c) potential hazards, and (d) accessible routes and facilities for people with disabilities.

This information is published by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s Chief Executive. It is a general guide only and, if used, does not relieve any person of the obligation to consider any matter to which the information relates according to the circumstances of the particular case. Expert advice may be required in specific circumstances. Where this information relates to assisting people: