Wayfinding: The Shopping Mall experience (Part 2)

Continuing and concluding the series ‘Wayfinding: The Shopping Mall experience’, in which I analyse the wayfinding strategies implemented in several Abu Dhabi shopping malls, in this final instalment I will be focusing on the user experience at Al Wahda Mall, Abu Dhabi Mall and Al Zahiyah Shopping Center in relation to my previous analyse of the World Trade Center Mall.

Comparing Al Wahda Mall’s online wayfinding experience, a critical aspect in promoting an efficient experience through yielding an awareness of the space for the user before one’s physical visit, by accessing its website (www.alwahda-mall.com) with that of World Trade Center Mall previously, Al Wahda Mall also has a full and updated list of stores with their location only being informed by a written location. However, Al Wahda’s website slightly elevates above that of World Trade Center’s limitations. This is because on top of  the floor the store is found, each specific store is provided with a reference code. This reference code can be used alongside the floor plans provided on the website which identities each unit and its respective reference code. However, the user has to manually align the reference code of the specific store site to the separate floor map. This can be time consuming and frustrating due to the volume of shops and as such the amount of accompanying reference codes. On the other hand, Abu Dhabi Mall’s online wayfinding experience (www.abudhabi-mall.com), builds on the limitations of the World Trade Center Mall and Al Wahda Mall websites as it provides an interactive map which conjoins store location to a visual representation of the mall space in the form of a map which previous cases failed to do. Despite the online map being basic, plain, and out-dated in design compared to the detailed digital wayfinding maps discussed below, the user can effectively find the exact location of stores and other mall services without knowing the space beforehand. If done correctly the user can be entirely independent of the wayfinding strategies implemented in the physical space during the actual visit based on the knowledge and spatial understanding gained through such online tool. In Al Zahiyah Shopping Center’s case this opportunity of helping the user to gain a head start in the wayfinding process is missed through not having a website to communicate such vital strategies.

Analysing the physical wayfinding strategies of Al Wahda Mall effectively uses a range of signage in the form overhead signage communicating the direction of the mall’s services and facilities as well as stands which inform the user of the direction of specific shops. Images of these strategies are found below. However, it is important to highlight that the design of these signs are different in different sections of the mall and as such are not uniform. More importantly, some overhead signs of the same style/design are inconsistent in the aspect that one overhead sign guides the user to the nearest toilets, a critical and popular mall facility, yet the other overhead sign does not include toilets in their directions (image below). As such these signs should be enhanced in order to provide a uniform system to communicate the same facilities throughout the mall. This is because the current overhead signage system assumes that if the user passes by the toilets then signage can instead communicate a different facility in the place of toilets. It is also important to highlight that on top on these inconsistencies of communication, certain overhead signage boards are misleading and missed informed. For example, one overhead sign guides the user right across a bridge to reach the toilets, however the user is confronted with a wall. Instead the toilets, which presuming the signage is trying to indicate, are indeed on the right but much further ahead and as such this signage should have been installed further along the hallway (images below). Another limitation to the signage at Al Wanda Mall is that due to the complexity of its layout, several confusing corridor separations are yield midway (image of example below). At these key junctions there should be signage indicating which shops are located in the conjoining passage way.

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Analysing the signage at Abu Dhabi Mall, it very effectively integrates the use of pictograms to communicate to the user which escalators to take by providing warning signs that the escalator is rotating in the wrong way in relation to the user’s intended route (images below). This as such can prevent any misfortunately accidents through effectively informing the user of the correct escalator whilst eliminating the language barrier through using universally understand symbols to represent these issues and solutions. However, the main entrance of the mall is poorly signed in the sense that once the user enters, it is only by presumption to take the escalators up that the user can access the main shopping levels (image below). As such there should be a big sign at the bottom of the escalators directing the unfamiliar user upstairs for shops and at the top of the staircase to direct the user back down to the main exit in order to reduce any confusion in the mall’s main entry points.

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I have concluded based on observations that due to the small scale and simpler layout of Al Zahiyah Shopping Center, signage is minimal which is beneficial and negative as its alienates the new user, while eliminates confusion for the regular user. However, recently the main front of the shopping mall has been covered due to renovations (image below). As such there is currently no indication that this building is still an active mall, compared to that of the other malls studied which place a great emphasis on their exterior look, and as such it would be very unlikely for a new user to find the mall in the first place, let alone experience the poor and nonexistent wayfinding strategies inside.

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Parallel to the World Trade Center Mall, interestingly both the other 2 major malls Al Wahda Mall and Abu Dhabi Mall also utilise digital wayfinding strategies in the form of an interactive interface (images below) and yield a very similar enhanced experienced in relation to my assessment at WTC Mall. Yet unique to Al Wahda Mall is that the digital wayfinding uses a 3D model of the mall in recreating the experience of getting to the desired location for the user (images below). This is very beneficial as the user can use the aspect of landmarks in following the route provide in real life. Also unique to Al Wahda’s digital interface is that whilst requesting the option for an accessible route, the system still directs the user through the escalators which is problematic (images below).

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In all cases, the malls in Abu Dhabi from the examples studied fail to fully utilise the usefulness of the digital wayfinding strategies through also providing and integrating such tools online. Having these strategies, which embody maps, signage, symbols, and route following, available and accessible online before the experience, will ultimately yield an effective and convenient user experience through eliminating the complications of unfamiliarity. Having theses digital wayfinding strategies, as argued above to be the most useful in the mall experience, online will help the user to gain a solid geo-spatial awareness of these unfamiliar complex spaces which many shopping malls by default embody. With such orientation comes the ease of navigability. Simply for this to happen, malls have to conjoin online and digital strategies into one wayfinding experience.

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