How do we think about navigating? The link to wayfinding strategy…

At the core of a good wayfinding strategy is a good understanding of the various mental models users might hold of the space and how this will impact their navigation.

That mental model is often influenced by different representations of the place or space. The classic example is the London tube map which famously distorts the layout of London.  On the Gizmodo site, London has been redrawn to show how the tube map distorts it.

Despite locals knowing this, many visitors rely on the tube map to shape their understanding of how London is laid out.  This is OK as long as you rely on the underground to get around – it is positively unhelpful once you try to move around at surface level.  Hence the success of the Legible London scheme which again has designed its maps around how the pedestrian looks and thinks about the world around them…which way do I need to go (relative to where I am facing)? how long will it take? etc.  The success is reinforced by the number of cities, like New York, following the same approach.

On another example, we recently discovered Crowsflight which is a new navigation app.  We’re yet to test it in anger but the idea is nice.  If I want to walk to somewhere in the city do I really need/want step-by-step directions or do I just want to know which direction to head in?

Navigating in this way might be simpler on our memory load (we don’t have to remember the steps or keep referring to our phones) and be more enjoyable – we get to explore and maybe actually learn our way around.  We suspect it might be a bit harder for that final bit of the journey to locate the actual building or location you are going to but the concept of fitting with how we think about navigation is great.
All of these examples reflect looking at how we think about the environment and how we navigate.  Good strategy is built on developing this kind of thinking for the places we design.


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