Thursday, July 30, 2009


I interrupt this vacation to make a point about wayfinding. Over the last five days I've been able to find my way throughout Central California by feel, or probably more accurately, by way of very well designed wayfinding measures that are unknown to me. I've driven, criss-crossing well over 1,000 square vacation miles without getting lost. I found Sausalito, Haight-Ashbury, Fisherman's Wharf and Apple's HQ without a map. Haight-Ashbury was easy. You find a psychedelic store front or mural with people wearing tie-dye and then try to determine in which direction it becomes more concentrated. You have to keep in mind that smoke shops and images of Bob Marley count as well.

Wayfinding and good design is like that. It doesn't get in the way but feels right, looks right, gets the job done. San Francisco is north, Santa Cruz is south and all the other Sans and Santas are in between. Almost. Santa Cruz is my mental southern boundary. Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, etc. don't exist at least on this trip.
Wayfinding encompasses all of the ways in which people and animals orient themselves in physical space and navigate from place to place.

Wayfinding is often used to refer to traditional navigation methods used by indigenous peoples. In more modern times, wayfinding is used in the context of architecture to refer to the user experience of orientation and choosing a path within the built environment, and it also refers to the set of architectural and/or design elements that aid orientation.
My first encounter with problematic wayfinding techniques happened on the second day here when I entered the ice rink for the first time.  Kayla was to get some ice time to rehearse her routine for the competition the following morning. Kayla said she was on the yellow rink. Looking to my right, the rafters overhead were painted yellow and the trim at the top of the barrier was yellow as were the baseboards. No brainer I thought. The YELLOW rink was right in front of us. Wrong. That was the red rink. The yellow rink was in the back.

Stopping one of the San Jose Sharks hockey players I asked where the yellow rink was. "Yellow rink," he said. "All I know are the north, south, east and west rinks. No colors." Even directional navigation only works if you know which way is one direction, in relation to north. I'm sure the person that came up with the color coded method of navigation was confused with the NSEW method and decided to substitute their own for the figure skating competition. Yeah, the colors fixed e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g. Over the course of the next day I heard a lot of, "You're over there! Or is it over there?" I also noticed there are a lot of skaters and coaches screaming, cussing and running through the hallways. By the way, all of the rinks had yellow rafters and yellow trim.

I encountered the second wayfinding example this morning. A simple hotel map or so it should have been. Locate the gym on the map (see below & click on the map to enlarge) and see if you think it's on the second floor or the Lobby floor, which I suppose is the first floor. Hint, the gym is on the right of the rectangular shape in the upper center of the map. The image you see there rotates with two ads for restaurants in the hotel. So if you were looking at the actual map, you would have 10 seconds to find where you are before a photo of a big steak took it's place. Good Luck!

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