City Wayfinding: how did we get here, and where are we going? (part 1)

Imageability: that quality in a physical object which gives it a high probability of evoking a strong image in any given observer. It is that shape, color, or arrangement which facilitates the making of vividly identified, powerfully structured, highly useful mental images of the environment – Kevin A. Lynch, “The Image of the City” (1960)

Legible London wayfinding sign

Today, Kevin A. Lynch is revered as a godfather of modern city wayfinding. An urban planner and a scholar, Lynch’s most influential work dates back to 1960 and a five-year study of the ways in which people imagine, perceive, map and recall a city landscape.

Lynch’s thrust was to underline how the legibility and character of an urban environment feeds into the creation of mental maps in somebody navigating the city terrain. He studied the experiences of people in three US cities; Boston, Jersey City and Los Angeles. Lynch asked participants to sketch out and describe in detail numerous trips through the city, and came to the conclusion that we make sense of our surroundings in predictable and consistent ways.

A legible city, Lynch argued, was one that utilised patterns of recognisable symbols, those that are at once easily identifiable and grouped logically. Lynch defined the elements that make up these symbols as paths, edges, districts, nodes and landmarks.

These same five elements still play a foundational role in the design of modern city wayfinding systems. 2017 marks the tenth anniversary of Legible London, a high profile example of a city wayfinding system with lineage in theories and best practice refined over the half-century since Lynch’s seminal work. And as we shall now see, Legible London is just one of a growing number of wayfinding schemes that continue to prove his thesis.

WalkNYC wayfinding system

Paths
A path in the Lynchian-sense is any route or channel along which somebody travels. Prominent, legible paths are those that lend character, and might include a concentration of specific activity or distinct facade along a street. They may follow an edge (see below) or other topographic feature. Paths should be easily identifiable, have continuity and a functional necessity. Good city wayfinding design uses paths as prominent features on a map, as in the above example from WalkNYC in New York City.

Toronto TO 360 wayfinding signage

Edges
Edges are boundaries between distinct areas: examples in the city landscape may include roads, parks, shopping districts and residential areas; or natural barriers such as water and green spaces. Edges are linear, though do not qualify as paths. The wayfinding design above, from TO360 in the City of Toronto, defines edges along a railway line and major road.

Interconnect Wayfinding map

Districts
A district is a relatively large city area with a common character, one which the observer can easily categorise. It has a homogenous character, taken from its use or function, texture, space, form, building types, inhabitants or typography. Wayfinding maps can define and lift districts graphically, or by using naming styles and conventions, as in this example from Interconnect West Midlands (Birmingham, UK).

Stockholm Wayfinding map

Nodes
A node is a focus point, and highly compelling to the navigator. Squares, junctions and access to transport are examples of nodes. Paths that cross can be nodes, though too many could render them undistinguishable. A node can also be a thematic concentration, such as a commercial street corner. Nodes, as well as areas of distinct public realm, are emphasised on this map for Stockholm Regional Transport by adding extra detail to these areas.

Legible London wayfinding map

Landmarks
A landmark must have an element which singles it out from a host of other possibilities. The key physical characteristic is uniqueness or memorability. To be easily identifiable, it should have a clear form, contrasting with its surroundings, and some kind of spatial prominence. Careful, sparing selection of landmarks is essential in city wayfinding, with neither too many nor too few in use to allow only true landmarks to remain. These can vividly populate a user’s mental map of the city, and aid greatly to spatial awareness. Seen here on Legible London mapping.

Skilful employment of these elements not only reinforces the usefulness of a legible city wayfinding system, but also allows a city to flaunt specific aspects of its character, personality and uniqueness. And as Lynch proscribed, a city with a high imaginability will be legible, navigable, and enticing to its users.

In our next post, we will discuss how cities are seizing this opportunity to install iconic signage and mapping that reflects their own identity while retaining the tenets of effective city wayfinding.

T-Kartor creates digital maps for NYC subway displays

T-Kartor's newly installed WalkNYC digital screen

New York City MTA (Metropolitan Transportation Authority) are taking a major step towards the future of transport information design with digital screens being installed at 33 newly renovated subway stations.

T-Kartor were asked to develop a specially designed digital version of the printed local area maps we are creating for all 450 subway stations.

Optimised for low resolution
This special adaptation is necessary because digital screens, even so-called HD (high definition) screens and televisions have a very low resolution, compared to your laptop or desktop monitor. This means that smaller features and symbols, or lighter texts are rendered illegible. The images below illustrate the problem:

WalkNYC City Wayfinding maps on digital screens for New York subway maps

T-Kartor carried out a thorough study of fonts, colours and text sizes to achieve increased legibility. Finally, specially designed graphic files were tested in prototypes of the screens, including a study of the ambient conditions, which will influence colours and contrast.

The result was a fine, legible map, which a viewer will perceive as identical to the established printed brand and a wealth of expertise gained, which will form valuable input to the success of future interactive products.

In the New York press:
Brooklyn Reporter
NY Daily News
Gothamist

Report links NYC Citi Bike usage to commuter journeys


Citi Bike in New York City is mainly being used for a short stage of a longer multi-stage commute, illustrating the importance of good wayfinding information at cycle hire stations.

A new report into New York’s Citi Bike scheme has been released by the NYU Rudin Centre for Transportation, available for download here.

Citi Bike is proving a success, with 14 million trips during 2016 representing a rise from 10 million the previous year. By the end of this year the system will have doubled in size to 12,000 bikes and 700 stations. The NYU Rudin Centre for Transportation claims that the diversity of transportation modes are what ‘makes New York move’.

The report suggests that riders are using Citi Bike for ‘last mile’ connections on longer transit trips, closing gaps in the fixed route public transport network.

This is why T-Kartor specialises in producing map information specially designed for each stage of the journey. In order to encourage a shift to sustainable forms of transport, complex journeys must be simplified and more options must be simply presented. At bus stops, for example, we produce maps of available bus services, but also local area maps for those searching for their destination, and onward journey maps showing alternative modes of transport in the vicinity.

Key information for cyclists on New York’s Citi Bike maps (produced by T-Kartor) includes safe and recommended routes; infrastructure such as segregated cycle paths; bike hire stations and cycle repair shops.

Information designed specifically for each mode of transport (including walking and cycling) requires basemaps in varying scales, formats and media. T-Kartor’s City Mapping Platform provides one core basemap, constantly maintained in collaboration with city authorities, with outputs to all necessary scales, formats and media. These include information totems, printed posters, hand held map leaflets, digital displays and smart phone apps.

NYC Wayfinding – Select Bus Service launch

NYC1

The second major phase of the New York City wayfinding system (also called WalkNYC) has rolled out, locating totems with real-time bus information at SBS (Select Bus Service) stations along a new route of this bus rapid transit system.

Select Bus Service is New York City Transit’s new, innovative bus service designed to reduce travel time and increase the level of comfort for customers. The new B44 route running along Nostrand, Rogers and Bedford Avenues in Brooklyn was launched November 2013 and the route will serve 40,000 passengers each day. The improved passenger information provided by the wayfinding totems will be key to providing a user-friendly customer experience and is another step in the ambition to provide a fully joined-up wayfinding solution to pedestrians, cyclists and mass transit users in New York City.

NYC2The cartographic map production was lead by T-Kartor, together with a design team including wayfinding specialists CityID and industrial designers Billings Jackson. Graphic designers Pentagram and engineers and project managers RBA Group complete this team. The map production has been trialed at two stops during the fall 2013, with the rest of the route and two further routes (M34 in Midtown Manhattan and M60 out towards the New York LaGuardia airport) to be rolled out during 2014, with graphic artwork produced by T-Kartor.

T-Kartor and partners deliver ‘WalkNYC’ pedestrian wayfinding system

NYC5 NYC4 NYC3

A new pedestrian wayfinding system known as WalkNYC has been introduced in the city of New York.

Commissioned by the New York City Department of Transportation and its partners, the system offers pedestrians a series of stylised maps, orientated to ‘heads up’ so the top of the map is always displaying the same direction that the user is facing. This is, in part a reaction to research that showed 33% of people on the streets of the city could not identify which direction was North. The same research highlighted that 13% of locals were not aware of the neighbourhood or borough they were in when questioned.

The project is as much about finding the best way around on foot and discovering points of interest as it is about orientating oneself within the city landscape.

WalkNYC was delivered by PentaCityGroup, a consortium of:

  • T-Kartor who designed the geographic database and manage cartographic production
  • Billings Jackson Design – industrial designers
  • City ID – wayfinding experts
  • Pentagram – graphic designers
  • RBA Group – engineers and urban planners

The project is also an extension of the city brand, utilising a new version of the Helvetica font which is used elsewhere in the urban realm. The design also uses a palette inspired by colours within the city, icons that are based on certain design aspects of the Helvetica typeface and an overall look and feel that is reflective of the graphics used within the subway system.

Phase 1 of the roll-out will include approximately 100 ‘totems’ of varying widths dependant on location and will feature the same mapping style already used for the CityBike cycle hire scheme which has 300 stations so far and continues to grow.

Future phases of the project will look to expand the system over a wider geographic area and to include information about other transport modes. Developing into digital and other print channels is also being discussed.