The World of Wayfinding


As usual, this post will include a conglomeration of topics ranging from class lectures to outside discoveries to our assigned readings. I hope that everybody will be able to find something interesting in the post, but at the very least it should serve as a good review of certain areas of the knowledge we are gaining in this class. Below is an outline of the topics I will cover:

  1. Typefaces (Part II)
  2. Rem Koolhaas
  3. Designers Don’t Lie
  4. Travels: Sri Lanka Airport & Singapore
  5. D1 Talking Points
  6. Readings: Brief Insights

(1) Typefaces (Part II)

In my last blog post I included some of the take-aways from Professor Puccetti’s first lecture about typefaces that took place on February 24. The lecture continued on March 2, and I thus wanted to include notes from that class on the blog as well. Unlike last time when I included key take-aways from the lecture, this time I will include a list composed primarily of brief notes and facts, with only a couple “bigger” ideas.

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(2) Rem Koolhaas

On March 16 I had the amazing honor to attend a lecture by Rem Koolhaas, the renowned Dutch architect, at The Yard in Dubai. The lecture revolved around Koolhaas’ most famous buildings, and consequently it less about concepts and design theories (unfortunately) as it was about real-world information. Of course, I still learned a lot and felt privileged to be given a chance to hear from him (additionally, The Yard had lots of wonderful art exhibits that I enjoyed looking through after the lecture). Below I list the main insights imparted by Koolhaas (most of which are specific to Dubai/the Middle East):

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(3) Designers Don’t Lie

Watch for the lie factor.

On March 7, Professor Puccetti gave a lecture aptly named “Designers Don’t Lie” (A Conversation on the Visual Display of Quantitative Information). We not only learned how easily designers are able to misrepresent (read: lie) about information, but also how dangerous it is when non-designers misrepresent information (accidentally or ignorantly, not deceptively). Additionally, we learned about a few things designers should never do (cough cough, clip art). Below I detail some of the main take-aways from the lecture:

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(4) Travels: Sri Lanka Airport & Singapore


Abu Dhabi to Singapore

I was fortunate to be able to visit Singapore this spring break – the city is beautiful, clean, and in general, permits easy wayfinding. However, on the way to Singapore from Abu Dhabi, I had a brief layover in Sri Lanka, at Bandaranaike International Airport, and observed something both hilarious and tragic (well, tragic for those who value good wayfinding design). See if you notice anything strange in the photo below:

Notice anything strange?

As you can see, I took the photo while standing next to Gate 10-11; however, as you can see, a sign ahead indicates that Gates 8-9 and 12-14 are further ahead. Why those gates would be next to each other, while Gate 10-11 would be somewhere else is beyond me – and this strange arrangement confused me for a moment while I was navigating the airport myself.

Another issue at the airport was the following: there was a screen in the main hallway, right at the door of each gate. Passengers had to wait in the hallway until the screen read “Singapore (or whatever destination) is now boarding,” and only then could they enter the gate area (where there were tons of empty seats, unlike in the hallway). While this was bad enough, since it made no sense to have the gate area (a huge, air-conditioned room full of chairs) stay empty for seemingly no reason until the magical boarding time appeared on the screen, there was an even worse issue. When the screen finally read that a flight was boarding, the workers would still not let passengers into the gating area. For this reason, the situation was very much like the doors on NYUAD’s campus that read “this is not a door”: whenever a passenger, seeing that the screen said the flight was boarding, would go up to a gate agent, the agent would say “the flight is not boarding yet.” It was a rather interesting, though somewhat frustrating, experience.

Lastly, during my stay in Singapore I experienced several minor wayfinding issues. The most noteworthy, however, is the one I briefly mentioned in class. In order to enter a beautiful garden area, I was told I had to go up an elevator to the sixth floor. After doing so, I realized that while I was on the sixth floor, and while the bridge to the gardens was also on the sixth floor, the bridge and the rest of the floor were not connected. I finally entered the gardens 45 minutes later, after going back down to the ground floor, leaving the building I was in, going down into a subway station, coming up from the subway station into a different building, and only then taking an elevator up to the sixth floor. It was confusing, but overall still fun – for even the subway stations in Singapore are sparklingly clean and beautiful.

(5) D1 Notes

On March 9, we as a class went to D1 to look around the space and think more about how it could (and should) eventually be used. Below are (a) some pictures I took of the space for reference (unfortunately the pictures are not the best, for that same day they were preparing D1 for a DJ night), as well (b) a few of the biggest talking points from our brainstorming session.

A) D1 Photos

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B) D1 Brainstorming Topics

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6) Readings: Brief Insights

In this last section, I wanted to briefly mention two insights I gained from a recent reading assignment:

  • In Wayshowing > Wayfinding, Per Mollerup defines wayshowing as “all the activities and implements that make a location navigable” as well as “identifiable, understandable, memorable, and accessible” (50). The notion that wayshowing (and the field of wayfinding in general) involves making a location memorable is what really struck me, and I wondered what memorable means in this context. In terms of wayfinding, a location being memorable means two possible things to me: it could mean a) that it was so easy to navigate that it permitted users to have a wonderful experience in that location, creating positive associations with the place and consequently leaving a memorable mark on users, and/or b) that the signs, landmarks, etc. were so beautiful/creative/striking that the location also became memorable as result.
  • In the same text, Mollerup explains that there is a wayshowing hierarchy: 1) environment (e.g. landmarks), 2) direct labels (e.g. signs), and 3) self-explanation (e.g. help desks). It is best to maximize the first level of the hierarchy in aiding people’s wayfinding, and then the second, and lastly, the third. More than anything, what I thought when I read this sentence was the following: it is fascinating that wayfinding experts (and designers in general) are able to put into words what people intuitively know, but often ignore/forget/are unable to articulate. There is no doubt that a landmark is a better/easier wayfinding tool than an information desk, but despite this knowledge there are lots of places (such as airports, among others) that resort first to the third level of the wayshowing hierarchy without putting effort into the first two, which are more effective/efficient methods. I cannot help but feel that everyone should take a wayfinding or design course in their lives, and consequently I am very happy to know that wayfinding at NYU Abu Dhabi will be core next semester (and I wish such a class would exist at NYU Shanghai as well).

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