“To explain wayfinding, we have to ask you a question: Have you ever been disabled by your environment. Or more simply, have you ever found yourself lost in space, either dimensional or cyber? Sure you have!” Paul Arthur (http://www.inforamp.net/~zlam/way_find.html)
(Archived September 1, 1997)
Marie Wallace has enjoyed a fulfilling career as a librarian, beginning in 1951 in academia with the University of California and transitioning in 1971 into the private law library world until her 1995 retirement from O’Melveny & Myers. she is the 1997 receipient of the American Association of Law Libraries’ highest honor, the Marian Gould Gallagher Distinguished Service Award. Throughout her professional life, Marie has been a guiding force in the Southern California Association of Law Libraries, Practising Law Institute’s programs for law librarians and Teaching Legal Research in Private Law Libraries (TRIPLL).
Today, Marie has commenced on a new path she terms “Life in Progress,” which enables her to pursue a diversity of interests as a master swimmer, law librarian, trainer, storyboarder and designer of wearable art. She continues to be a dynamic speaker and prolific writer on such topics as private law library management, presentations and training. She is a member of Toastmasters International and is active with the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) and in continuing education for private law librarians. She devotes her “free” time to various non-profit and civic activities. Always open to new ideas, Marie can be reached at: [email protected].
When I first started writing about storyboarding in the early 90s, I was concerned about two things. First, the overall image many users had of law libraries was a labyrinth (age old symbol for being lost). Many lawyers told me of going into a law library for the first time and knowing specifically what they needed–perhaps Title 29 of the US Code. In the absence of cues on the library layout, they would do the lawn mower maneuver (up one side of the aisle and down the other) until they “eureka’d.”
Second, too many reference questions started out “Where is…” Originally I thought the solution was better maps, color coded routes like hospitals use, improved signage and more pathfinders, then I discovered wayfinding and realized that maps and signage are only part of the perceptual, cognitive and decision-making and decision-executing processes to find one’s way in a new environment. Functional environments have to be designed with the user in mind. No amount of signage can salvage obscurity in a design. Unfortunately, many libraries were designed with the user at the bottom of the priority list and before today’s technology–when user patterns were very different. Without changes in the wayfinding plan, library spatial communication systems are riddled with confusing messages which often carry over into the digital nodes as well.
The universal contemporary wayfinding problem is public parking structures. Is there anyone among us who has not forgotten where the car was parked? Have you considered why? Or why you never forget when you park on the street? I recently had a new experience in a parking structure, one that made me think of how parking structures resemble information systems. We had gone to MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Art) in Los Angeles on a Saturday to hear the panel discussion “Clicking-In: Hot Links to a Digital Culture” about digital media changing people’s sense of identity and reality. The free parking was in a structure that provides office parking during the week. After the program, we had no problem finding the car because we frequently stopped and looked behind us on the way to the museum. Yet once back in the car, we were unable to find our way out. We followed the “Exit” signs to their ultimate destinations (four of them) and in each case there was an exit–but it was closed! In desperation, we located the only other human being in the huge space, and luckily he was familiar with the structure. On weekends all the regular exits are closed and visitors have to transition to an adjacent building via an obscurely marked route to find the single open exit. The original signage was good but when the use of the facility changed no one thought to update the wayfinding system and it became a disabling environment.
What is wayfinding?
What is wayfinding about?
What are the important wayfinding concepts?
If wayfinding principles are ignored what undesirable things are likely to happen?
The basic architectural design process
The basic procedure for wayfinders to follow
For the user or wayfinder, the procedures is to navigate and explore the cues to find the way and not get lost. There are more non user-friendly environments than user-friendly ones. People who have travelled extensively are well experienced with both and come to wayfinding with a good model: get a map, create a conceptual map, plot main and alternate routes, personalize space as you go, explore a little along the way, and remember the landmarks so you know how to get back.
How does wayfinding fit with storyboarding as described in Storyboarding Part 1 (motion pictures) and Storyboarding Part 2 (displayed thinking)?
What are some of the applications of wayfinding for legal information?
How whole buildings communicate a sense of place
The Wellington Public Library in New Zealand is an outstanding example of good wayfinding design. The external walls are glass. You can see the layout from the outside, the entrance and the inside. Neon signs flash the subject arrangement. Shelves are only five high and easily scanned. A friendly, humorous attitude is expressed in whimsical clocks, asymmetrical design features, bright colors and amenities, including a coffee shop on the mezzanine overlooking the three floors. In one glance, the user grasps the big picture, the route and the destination. The building invites users in.
In Los Angeles, there is a luxury hotel consisting of five circular towers. Everyone who stays or has gone to a conference there complains about disorientation. The hotel has tried color coding and signage but the absence of distinguishing spatial anchor points remains a problem. Each tower looks the same as the others and leaves the user without building blocks to construct a cognitive map or to form an overall image of the layout. The building does not invite. Eventually, the original owners filed for bankruptcy.
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