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"I understand this space"



Orientation happens when a space is coherent and legible (1)


Legibility refers to someone’s ability to read a space.  A person who can easily see and understand a space feels more at ease and less disoriented.  Legibility of a space may be addressed through visual and spatial cues.  


Legibility aids in reducing fear by enhancing an understanding of space, allowing the mind to feel at ease and freeing it to explore.  Total clarity is not necessarily the goal; a space may then become boring.  However, when one feels confident they will not get lost, they feel more comfortable exploring a space.  Fear of the unknown can create a sense of vulnerability that increases stress and dislike of a place. 


Designers can reduce fear through visual access, increased familiarity, and indications of human presence (1).  By increasing a quick understanding of a setting, one feels more comfortable exploring.  For example, the designer can identify ways in which to make linked areas feel coherent, using floor materials to identify pathways, providing a sense of depth for greater understanding of a layout, and providing openings with which to orient oneself. 

Visual cues may give you points of reference, or intuitively orient you in a space (2, 3)
material or color
pattern or texture
graphics or signage

Photo Credit: Nicole Craanen

Photo Credit: Laura Stamer

Photo Credit: Nicole Craanen

Photo Credits: Studio SC

Spatial cues can make navigation of a space easier by influencing orientation:
  • 5 Perceived Spatial Elements
  • ​Connections & Separations
  • Transitional Spaces
5 Perceived Spatial Elements

The five spatial elements that Kevin Lynch identified provide a nice framework by which to understand our perception of space.  These can be applied at many levels, from a building interior to urban planning (4).


Channels along which an observer moves, such as a hallway.  It can invite one to proceed, and increase legibility.  


A path can be further identified using visual cues. 

Linear elements not considered a path, commonly found as boundaries between two distinct areas.  


An edge could be a wall, or a defined border of some type.

Strategic points that helps guide an observer in identifying a space.




A node may be a junction of pathways, or an area of concentration, such as an entrance or gathering space.

Medium to large areas that are recognizable as having some common character. 





A district may be a ward or town in a city. In a building, it could be identified as a floor or team area, etc.

Serve as a point of reference.  These are a physical object of some sort, different from a node as a place one can exist within.  


A landmark in a building might be a piece of sculpture or recognizable and distinct piece of  furniture or artwork.

All Photo Credits: Nicole Craanen

Visual Cues
Spatial Cues

Connections & Separations are helpful in identifying boundaries.  They help one decide if a space is inviting or excluding – so one gets a sense of whether they should continue into a space or not. They can be helpful in identifying regions by signaling a transition from being “in” or “out” of a district.  


Connections & Separations, such as gateways, can encourage exploration and understanding, as well as serve as a node or landmark (5, 6).  Gateways can be doors, partitions, furniture layouts, or anything that serves as a boundary.

Transitional spaces include entrances, hallways, gateways, and identifiable transitions between the indoor and outdoor world, like porches and courtyards. 


Transitional spaces help one identify their location within a larger space, and move from a space with one function, to a space with a different function. ​

Transitional Spaces
Break Down
Connections & Separations
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