Good signage is part of accessibility

A mall’s accessibility issues are not tackled simply by building a wheelchair ramp or by making it easy for parents with prams to find their way in. Maybe we should rethink the entire signage system so that it serves the needs of all kinds of customers and promotes accessibility, muses Pirjo Aalto, Commercial Development Director at the Mall of Tripla.

When I visit a new place, I often do a simple test: where do I end up if I go exactly where the signposts take me?

More often than not, I get lost. It hasn’t been just once that I have, while searching for a restroom, found myself on the elevator or in a tiny boutique with no water closet whatsoever. Once I tried to exit a shopping mall by car, but instead of finding myself on the highway I somehow ended up in a suburban area about twenty kilometres in the opposite direction. I had my fellow passengers read the signs, too, so I dare to say it wasn’t my navigating that was bad but the signage.

I have played this navigation game for years. It’s not just for fun, however. I have a professional agenda: I want to make sure that, unlike in many other places, at the Mall of Tripla people find their way exactly where they want to go.

In the end, it all boils down to accessibility. Anyone who thinks accessibility issues are dealt with simply by drawing a lonely wheelchair ramp and some tactile paving in the blueprint is thinking small.

Instead of individual measures, the accessibility of a shopping mall should be considered as a whole. Accessibility is about taking into account all kinds of people and ensuring they find their way wherever they want to go.

Mall of Tripla has a huge catchment area. The renewed Pasila station will become the largest railway station in Finland. Thanks to excellent public transport and road connections, up to 30 per cent of all Finns will be only 30 minutes’ ride away from the Mall of Tripla!

Suffice to say that the scope of mall visitors will range from wheelchair users to families with prams and from the visually impaired to elderly people operating with a walker – not to mention us that simply need clear signage to find our way out and to make it to the train on time.

That's why we have spent hundreds of hours thinking about accessibility and signage issues when designing the Mall of Tripla. In addition to wheelchair ramps and spacious lifts, we have tried to find the tiny, tangible things that make the everyday life easier to many. Are the handtowels in the restrooms low enough for everyone to reach? Are the mirrors angled so that they serve visitors no matter their height? Are the aisles spacious enough for turning with a wheelchair? At the core of every decision are customers and their needs.

And what about the signposts? Instead of papering the mall with signs that lead to nowhere, we have focused on the most important crossing points. They will be marked with simple, unambiguous signs that will not lead you astray. 

Together, the signposts will make a trail of traces, like the breadcrumbs in the story of Hansel and Gretel. With a clear trail, it is easy for the customer to get wherever they want – whether they walk or use a wheelchair, whether they can read or not and whichever language they speak!