IA Summit: The Future of Wayfinding

by Luke Wroblewski April 12, 2010

At the IA Summit in Phoenix, AZ Cennydd Bowles talked over the core principles and future applications of wayfinding. Here's my notes from his talk The future of wayfinding:

  • Different forms of way-finding. Survey knowledge is a topological understanding of an environment. It provides the big picture of a structure or a system and tends to be quite hierarchical. Procedural knowledge is following a series of steps. It is extremely efficient but quite fragile. As a result it is frequently written down. Landmark knowledge makes use of way-finding reference points.
  • Cognitive maps are the way-finding term for mental models. We start with known elements and form an understanding of an area around them.
  • We see different information seeking strategies in the real world. Naive search is when we don’t know the target’s area. It is common with first time visitors. Primed search is when we know the location. As a result it is more optimized. Exploratory search has no target at all. It allows you to experience the serendipity of an area. These strategies are often integrated together.
  • Environmental graphic design has a very user-centered design process. It aims to improve people’s experience in a city.
  • 5 ways to structure a map: Paths, Edges, Districts, Nodes, & Landmarks. Maps are not helpful without orientation. Compromises in maps for spatial limitations changes behaviors. As a result, they are frequently supplemented with signage.
  • Identification signs talk about a place and its name. Directional signs are designed to keep us on the move. Orientation signs help build survey knowledge. Regulatory signs tell us what we can or cant do. Vernacular signs are ad-hoc and often temporary.
  • The future of way-finding includes citizens and technologists as well as sign-makers and cartologists.
  • User as destination is a challenge because the interesting part of a user’s location is where they are going to be.
  • Ubiquitous computing is where a lot of today’s way-finding technologies will coalesce. When we have embedded way-finding inputs and outputs, we don’t have to rely on visuals alone. Wayfinding can dissolve into behavior.
  • You can bring digital metadata into the physical world. But we need a new design vocabulary and set of approaches. Mobile devices are a current focus of way-finding technologies including augmented reality.
  • Way-finding data will need reputable sources as more user-generated routes are created.
  • The future of way-finding is here but not distributed everywhere yet.