"Wayfinding" in the architectural world
June 7, 2001
While information architecture on the web may be a relatively new field, people seem to forget about related fields that have been dealing with the same issues for years. For example the New York Times profiles Paul Mijksenaar, a Dutch designer who's in the process of overhauling the signage at all three of New York's major airports. [free registration required, but hey, it's the New York Times…]

What are a some of the current problems?

Passengers are greeted with signs like "Danger! Do Not Walk in Roadway."

"Imagine it's your first time in New York," Mr. Mijksenaar said. "You've had nice stewardesses, and now, no one is caring for you. The message is, 'You're on your own here.' It's frightening."

The most egregious sign was: "W/B BQE Closed." (Translation: "You can't get on the Westbound Brooklyn Queens Expressway.")

"Do traffic engineers really think that a sign that reads 'W/B BQE Closed' is understood by a non-New Yorker who has just rented a car?" Mr. Mijksenaar asked, sounding occasionally like the Nurse Ratched of signs.

Sounds like more than a few web sites I've seen.

"Environmental graphics" is a recent but well-established subfield within graphic design—although it's a bit of a "border" discipline since it crosses over with architecture. A big concern within the field is "wayfinding," which according to one of it's practioneers means:

"knowing where you are, knowing your destination, following the best route, recognizing your destination, and finding your way back out.  When people cannot do any or all of these things, outside or inside complex facilities, we say they are disoriented."

Sounds familiar...

Of course wayfinding on the web, even in virtual 3D spaces, poses even more difficulties because there's far fewer cues than in the physical world.

Incidently, Mijksenaar has written a book, Visual Function : An Introduction to Information Design, which I haven't read myself but heard good things about. It's reportedly not really a how-to book, but has plenty of stimulating concepts and theories, and is supposed more informative overall than the out-of-print Open Here, which is the book referenced in the Times article. On the hand, the small number of reviewers at Amazon liked Open Here better. ::

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Your thoughts…

Nice link. As someone who travels through JFK airport a lot I can confirm that the restrooms are the bigger problem. When will they discover automatically flushing urinals? ;-)

Seriously, the article inforces the importance of learning the very basics of information design. Recently I visited California and was driving up Route 101 past the San Francisco airport. The signs seemed difficult to read quickly and I couldn't figure out why, since they seemed well designed. From the highway, it's easy to compare them to the highway signs. In my informal analysis I think at that type size the letterspacing was too large on the airport signs, so my eye had to piece together the letters instead of seeing it them as words. (Perhaps these aren't meant to be read from the highway at highway speeds, but the difference was so pronounced I couldn't help but thinking the letterspacing could be improved.)

Victor @ 06.09.2001

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Copyright © 2001 All Rights Reserved.
Any problems with the site?

Note: This site will look much better in a browser that supports web standards, but it is accessible to any browser or Internet device.