City Wayfinding: how did we get here, and where are we going? (part 2)

In our previous post, we briefly introduced Kevin A. Lynch and his pillars of city legibility; paths, edges, districts, nodes and landmarks. Mastery of these elements of an archetype legible and ‘imaginable’ city are still goals for city wayfinding systems today. However, there is enough scope and flexibility when putting these theories into practice that they permit each city to have a unique look and feel. In short, abiding by these rules of ‘good’ wayfinding need not suppress the uniqueness of a city.

To examine this further, we can compare the differences between online and on-street representations of a certain cities. We shall look at London, New York and Birmingham (UK).

google-map-examples

A generic, homogenous map design is used by the vast majority of digital applications, even those that are targeted at specific cities, largely thanks to the dominance in this domain of Google Maps. Indeed, it is hard to propose an alternative approach given Google’s (or Apple Maps’) aim of consistently representing the whole planet in digital map form. The digital user who can make sense of a Google map of London, is likely to be equally adept at finding their way around a Google map of Paris, Tokyo or Sydney.

But this standardised approach to representing the city environment can start to have an impact on the strategies Lynch developed for effective wayfinding. For example, how legible are navigational landmarks on a homogenous map if all points of interest are given near-equal prominence? And how imaginable are distinct city districts if they are all represented in the same muted tones, flattening out differences that in the real world may be quite stark?

It is possible to effectively map and depict a city by utilising striking aspects of its character. This, in turn, results in wayfinding that adheres to Lynch’s mantra of painting vivid mental maps in the mind of the user.

Legible-London-wayfinding-map

London: Legible London

London is one of the most visited cities in the world, with landmark buildings and attractions so well known that it is fair to say that many new tourists to the UK’s capital probably already have strong mental images of the cityscape even before arriving. St. Paul’s Cathedral, Buckingham Palace, the London Eye, all easily recognisable and symbolic of London as a whole. Legible London features about 750 of these landmarks modelled in 3D, each one instantly familiar and memorable to the user and an essential wayfinding tool.WalkNYC-new-york-wayfinding-mapping

New York: WalkNYC

New York, particularly the borough of Manhattan, is renowned for laying out its streets on a grid. The wayfinding basemap developed for the WalkNYC system adopts this structure in a rigid sense, and purposely straightens out any real-world imperfections. This avoids any minor deviations in straight line paths that would otherwise be distracting and untidy. Pavement widths, rounded corners, near-parallel routes were all adjusted geometrically on the WalkNYC basemap, resulting in a map design that promotes the block and grid characteristic as the most important element of this wayfinding system.

The WalkNYC colour palette, designed by resident New York design agency Pentagram, has been deliberately selected to allow the cities existing transit iconography and signage to shine through. Dating back to the work of Massimo Vignelli in the 1970s, this instantly recognisable work of graphic design is considered so iconic that it has become an essential part of New York’s public image. It is therefore paramount that any wayfinding system employs high profile elements such as fonts and colours used for subway line, not only to be in harmony with pre-existing signage systems but also to reflect the NYC look and feel.birmingham-wayfinding-maps

Birmingham, UK: Interconnect West Midlands

The colours employed on a particular wayfinding basemap need not be confined to the background. In Birmingham, for example, the Interconnect West Midlands system takes its cue from the area’s strong industrial tradition, with beige and grey shades reflecting the stone brick character of the UK’s second most populous city. The modern face of the city is rapidly developing, with redesigned and repurposed quarters being created in and amongst areas that still reference the past.

The wayfinding system mirrors this desire to both look forward and to be proud of the city’s roots by allowing the highlighting of places with strong cultural heritage, such as the Jewellery Quarter, as well as emphasising parts that have found a new lease a life, like the spruced up canal paths and landmark shopping developments. Their juxtaposition on the map matches the reality on the ground, and provides for an effective wayfinding system that is both born of, and created for, the city of Birmingham.

In our next post, we will examine a handful of specific map elements, common to the wayfinding systems discussed here and found elsewhere, now established as best practice for city wayfinding systems across the globe.

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 wins another TfL mapping contract

We are proud to have increased our share of TfL’s cartographic framework. T-Kartor is now the sole supplier of pedestrian and cycling information products containing mapping from the Legible London Database (which T-Kartor maintain under a separate contract).

A whole family products are included in this contract:

Local area maps
Highly-detailed geographic local area maps used for various ad-hoc purposes


Legible London mapping panels
These ‘heads-up’ maps are rotated to match the direction of travel and are placed on a number of pedestrian sign types. Additional information on these signs include street and landmarks indices and directional arrows to nearby neighbourhoods, landmarks or transport nodes.


Continuing your journey posters and leaflets
Highly-detailed geographic local area maps used at transport nodes such as station exits and bus station hubs. These maps usually appear with a schematic map of bus or river services. In some cases they are reproduced as an A4 leaflet.


Cycle Superhighway mapping panels
Cycle Superhighway mapping is elongated to suit the extra distance covered by bike, compared to a five minute walk distance.


Cycle Hire Docking Stations
These maps appear on the cycle hire infrastructure and involve an added technical complexity. The position of all nearby docking stations are shown on each map, so these maps are created paying consideration to the latest status of all stations within a certain radius.

We look forward to four more years continuing our excellent relationship with our highly valued customer.

The power of wayfinding signage to influence behaviour

Always keen to use our mapping products in situ and view them from a user perspective, I recently decided to carry out some research at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. The last time I visited was at the height of the Olympic Games and the area was teeming with tourists clutching the T-Kartor produced Host City Map.

I have read about legacy plans for the area and the London Legacy Development Corporation, a mayoral planning authority with the remit to manage ongoing regeneration of the Park and surrounding areas. One stated goal was to link the Olympic Park to the communities in the surrounding urban area. Legible London wayfinding maps are intended to help towards this goal, so I planned to see how well the system works in reality.

As part of T-Kartor’s creation and maintenance of the Legible London database, we developed the online LLAMA portal, from where Transport for London (TfL) can manage Legible London products in a geographic asset management view (above). From the portal I could see the positions of 43 Legible London products. An excel output broke down the details: 11 bus stop maps, 8 vicinity maps at stations (including DLR) and 23 walking totems, of which 4 are OWCRE (Olympic Walking and Cycling Route) signs along the canal towpath. In addition, the LLAMA portal allowed me to study the layout and rotation angle of each sign, and see a preview of the printed artwork (below).

What struck me on arrival at Stratford Station is the complexity of the area. A vast shopping centre and transport hub were my first impressions, but without a map it would be very difficult to appreciate its layout. I made my way across a huge raised walkway towards the old Olympic Stadium, now home to West Ham United Football Club, where I hired a (TfL) Santander cycle.

I often hire a TfL cycle in London, and head off in any direction with the confidence (due to the high density of mapping products) that I will not get lost. Although I was very unsure of the area, I soon came across map products and felt confident to explore.

The area is still heavily under construction, and does have a very deserted feel about it. However, I am fascinated by the level of investment in infrastructure that is still going on, years after the Olympic Games left town. The area is trying to encourage growing businesses, with Here East digital quarter, 3 Mills Film and TV Studios and International Quarter London (new home for progressive business).

My cycle ride took me first through the slightly desolate park, around the outside towards Hackney Wick, then along the canal riverwalk. Within a very short cycle I had experienced areas of urban decay and vandalism; recreational areas along the canalside, where people tending their barges lended a feeling of safety; vast, barricaded building sites; new business developments and the impressively landscaped grassy verges of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

An area of such contrasts, both negative and positive, needs cohesion and context. Legible London mapping helps by displaying how the area fits together, how to quickly walk or cycle to areas of safety and just how close everything is to where you are standing. The familiar design will have helped many unfamiliar visitors to the Olympics to feel that the area is as much a part of London as the West End.

If anything, I was disappointed by the lack of density of the wayfinding signage. Once away from the Stratford transport hub I found myself worrying that I had cycled ‘off the map’ before seeing another mapping signpost and breathing a sigh of relief.

I had also expected the area to be more complete than it is. I will have to repeat my field study in a few years and see if the sense of cohesion is improved as well as the density of wayfinding signs.

TfL Cycle Infrastructure Database

T-Kartor spent most of 2015 working as consultants on Transport for London’s Cycle Infrastructure Database. Following completion, work has recently begun field surveying all cycle infrastructure across the capital.

Background
London is undergoing substantial improvements in cycling infrastructure to meet an ambitious vision set out in 2012 by former Mayor Boris Jonson. Measures include the Cycle Hire program, Cycle Superhighways, traffic calming measures and specially designed junctions allowing priority and traffic lights for cyclists. The Cycle Infrastructure Database will be important for the following reasons:

As new cycle infrastructure is completed it will be highlighted on TfL customer information, which will encourage an increase in cycling.
A detailed inventory and overview of existing and new infrastructure will be an essential input to the planning process.
The new, improved Cycle Infrastructure Database will form the basis of improved cycle route recommendations on the TfL Journey Planner.

T-Kartor were chosen for this consultation project due to our experience with large data integration projects and our successful creation and management of the Legible London Database.

The creation of a Cycle Infrastructure Database requires a survey of all cycle related infrastructure: signage, road markings, traffic signals, traffic calming measures and cycle parking across London’s complete 14,000 km road network. Survey teams will register 70 different attributes and position them in relation to the road network. The database will store all of these infrastructure types, creating links to two separate GIS road networks: Open StreetMap, for presenting the information publicly on a royalty free map base; and the Ordnance Survey ITN road network, which is used internally by TfL GIS environments.

Mapping possibilities
T-Kartor created and maintain the Legible London Basemap on a GIS platform to allow flexibility of outputs and end uses. By linking to other data layers, new products and services can be supplied using the familiar Legible London base.

Some current examples:

csh

Cycle Superhighways appear on Legible London based signage and are aligned neatly to the basemap, stored and maintained in the database.

csh

Ticket Stops represent an important and constantly changing data layer for bus information products. The familiar OysterCard icon indicates the whereabouts of ticket outlets which sell and top up OyterCards.

ch-symbols

Cycle Hire docking stations include maps to show the positions of all nearby docking stations. This is essential information for users, who may need to deposit their hire cycle when a docking station is full, or find a cycle for hire when a docking station is empty. This data layer, holding almost 800 docking stations, changes frequently as building developments cause temporary relocation.

csh

Bus stops represent another frequently changing layer. This information is particularly important on station vicinity maps and bus spider maps, for ongoing travel information.

As the London Cycle Infrastructure Database is developed, it can be overlayed on the Legible London basemap and be easily incorporated into a number of new and existing information products.