A Narrative Review of Theories of Wayfinding Within the Interior Environment

Saman Jamshidi, Debajyoti Pati

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Purpose: The aim of this article is to provide a narrative overview of theories that are available in the published literature on wayfinding in interior environments. Background: Wayfinding is an issue in healthcare facilities, and it has been documented that wayfinding problems have negative impacts on patients, visitors, caregivers’ time, and the organization’s bottom line. This issue can be more challenging for people with illness, low vision, cognitive disorders, and limited physical mobility. Wayfinding is a complex phenomenon depending on a variety of cognitive processes and behaviors. Methods: This article is a part of a broader literature review that searched for empirical studies on interior wayfinding. Four databases were systematically searched—PsychINFO, JSTOR, ProQuest, and EBSCO. A total of 81 articles satisfied all inclusion criteria for the broader study. Each article included in the broader study was reviewed to identify theory or theories, if any, that a study was founded on. Results: After an in-depth review of the theories, the authors proposed four categories of theories relating to human wayfinding. The four classes and the specific theories in those are articulated in this article, including major changes during their evolution. The four classes of theories explain four facets of wayfinding: (1) theories of perception, (2) theories of spatial knowledge development, (3) theories of mental representation of spatial knowledge, and (4) theories of spatial cognition. Conclusion: Since wayfinding is essentially a cognitive/problem-solving phenomenon, understanding the theoretical underpinnings of wayfinding may result in more meaningful and impactful design decisions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)290-303
Number of pages14
JournalHealth Environments Research and Design Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2021


  • cognitive map
  • perception
  • spatial reasoning
  • spatial representation
  • theory
  • wayfinding


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