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The Evolution of Wayfinding
Different cultures commonly found ways to use their environment to navigate. Ancient Polynesian civilization is said to be the first to have studied the stars for navigation or even memorized wave and cloud patterns and depending on the formation of the pattern, they could indicate how close or far away they were from the land.
Greek and Roman civilizations developed what you could describe as the foundations for modern wayfinding solutions.
They focused more on signage or signs that consisted of images and words rather than stars or wave patterns to guide people.
Illustrations were mainly used to help the more illiterate people of those times, particularly the lower social classes.
Most signs were intended for businesses such as taverns or inns as well as weapon smiths, shoe stores or workshops, the reason is to make them far more identifiable amongst the complexity of large roman and greek cities.
Skip forward a few thousand years what started with rudimentary signage grew into mindful architecture and thoughtful spatial design. And it has become increasingly important as people are asked to navigate increasingly complex public and private spaces. As Dow explains, “wayfinding systems modify human behavior via visual, audible, tactile and cultural cues within a user’s experience.” These modifications have changed how we expect to experience our world, and with the digital global shift, the way people navigate indoors has been changed forever.
The next wave in the evolution of wayfinding struck swiftly with the rapid growth in digital technology, satellite infrastructure, and mobile connectivity. The Internet of Things (IoT) and connected devices enabled the creation of fully integrated, comprehensive, personalized wayfinding experiences throughout the indoor and outdoor worlds. While a person’s experience of a particular place has a beginning and an end, their navigational experiences could now be increasingly fluid as they find their way along roads and through the interiors of buildings.
There has also been a greater cultural shift from the communal experience to the individual that must be accounted for in the technology we develop to address the wayfinding experience. Whereas the center of our world was once a fixed geological point in a community, it’s now pinned to our personal geolocation at any given point in time. We now understand the geospatial world around us in relation to our own positioning.
In public spaces, what was once a form of communication from the one-to-many by way of kiosks and signage, has now become a one-to-one personalized experience. Mobile technologies have enabled a highly individualistic “you are here” blue dot experience for the indoor world which we have become accustomed to when navigating streets and cities. For example, our phones direct us through spaces with personalized navigation, and modern digital signage at kiosks allows you to input coordinates and shows your personal path instead of displaying a static image of a map. In many ways, our navigational experience is becoming increasingly personal.
Public and private organizations are being compelled to incorporate consumer-oriented principles of hospitality in providing these personalized experiences. We’re seeing the application of these customer service principles taking hold in transportation hubs and hospitals around the world. They are making wayfinding both multifunctional and interactive by evolving to feature intelligent pathing, personalized location-based services and alerts, user-friendly interfaces, and improved location history.
Buildings now provide a comprehensive set of wayfinding cues, from interactive signage and digital kiosks, to thoughtful spatial design and architectural wayfinding principles.
Indoor navigation has greatly enhanced the user experience for patients and visitors in hospitals, places that are believed by the masses to sometimes have inadequate wayfinding, but it doesn’t end there, we also find wayfinding solutions in malls, airports and so many other large spaces.
Now visitors can navigate from the point of their own home and follow a structured path to a venue or location with real-time updates.
Once inside the complex venue, they have can be directed, turn-by-turn, floor-by-floor to the exact room they need to be in
The possibilities are nearly limitless for how engaging the wayfinding experience can be in your building.