Wayfinding – the only way forward

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How many times have you missed an exit on an expressway and cursed under your breath? It is not only the frustration of missing an appointment but the loss of fuel and the unnecessary emission that adds to the already foul air. In urban settings, wayfinding specialists develop signage and information systems for both, pedestrians and motorists, who have unique challenges navigating streets and roadways. These information systems help people develop “mental maps” of the terrain and simplify their routes to the extent possible.

Wayfinding refers to information systems that guide people through a physical environment and enhance their understanding and experience of the space. Navigability means that the navigator can successfully move in the information space from his present location to a destination, even if the location of the destination is imprecisely known. Three criteria determine the navigability of a space:

1. Whether the navigator can discover or infer his present location;
2. Whether a route to the destination can be found; and
3. How well the navigator can accumulate wayfinding experience in the space.

An effective wayfinding system is based on human behaviour and consists of the following characteristics:

  • Do not make them think

Create a comprehensive, clear and consistent visual communication system with concise messaging.

  • Show only what is needed

Show information what relevant is to the space, location and / or navigation path.

  • Remove excessive information

Remove unnecessary elements to create a clear visual environment ahead.

This makes designing the information based system very easy. Wayfinding is the organization and communication of our dynamic relationship to space and the environment. And why is it so important in Indian context? Because never before was self-reliant, independent navigation in the city considered so important! Before google maps and GIS, people in India were largely dependent on the locals in that region to ask and to help with directions. There were no readily available tourist maps let alone information boards which could help people reach their destination after enquiry and identification. But today, India boasts of a truly avant-garde airport replete with touch friendly information systems, easy, accessible and available like pop-up information desks and kiosks. To replicate the same smooth flow of navigation, inside the city peripheries, following few principles of wayfinding should be implemented:

  • Create an identity at each location, different from all others.
  • Use landmarks to provide orientation cues and memorable locations.
  • Create well-structured paths.
  • Create regions of differing visual character.
  • Don't give the user too many choices in navigation.
  • Use survey views (give navigators a vista or map).
  • Provide signs at decision points to help wayfinding decisions.
  • Use sight lines to show what's ahead

These principles could be applied to a relatively micro scale, a Healthcare Campus or a much larger pan-city perspective. In urban settings, wayfinding specialists develop signage and information systems for both pedestrians and motorists. These information systems help people develop “mental maps” of the terrain and simplify their routes to the extent possible. There are five primary architectural wayfinding elements: (1) paths/circulation, (2) markers, (3) nodes, (4) edges, and (5) zones/districts. These, along with visual accessibility, are the design criteria for highly legible and comprehensible urban environments.