The Ultimate Guide to Pedestrian Wayfinding: Understand the Needs and Take Action in Your City
Have you ever got lost in the city or in a complex building? With the densification of urban areas good wayfinding systems are a major step to empower pedestrians. To boost the population’s walkability, best practices wayfinding solutions encourage and enable people to walk more often to more destinations.
This article brings together all the information you must know to meet the needs of all populations, the existing solutions and how to implement them in your city. You will then have all the keys to take action and help all the citizens to get their bearings, regardless of their disability, age and knowledge of the area.
Let’s empower all the pedestrians!
Why pedestrian wayfinding is important in a city?
Wayfinding systems for pedestrians are essential in cities as they give information about the environment and enable a smooth and coherent walk. They provide accurate, clear and quality information allowing to streamline the flow and make citizens as autonomous as possible.
According to SEGD, Wayfinding refers to “information systems that guide people through a physical environment and enhance their understanding and experience of the space”.
Wayfinding solutions give the right information at the right time and enable people to easily build a mental map of an area. They make the environment readable and navigable. Using wayfinding systems also help improving the user experience and pleasure for pedestrian visitors.
Wayfinding systems also encourage the walk. In cities walking is crucial as it helps reduce pollution and climate change. It also improves personal health. In addition, a pedestrian will be more likely to consume than a person by car, thus directly impacting the economy of a city. From a social point of view, walking promotes equality and strengthens social bonds between inhabitants. Finally, walking in the city makes it easier for people to use bicycles and public transport.
In other words, the information provided by wayfinding systems has a major impact on the economic, social and well-being of all.
What are pedestrian wayfinding needs?
The basic need in terms of pedestrian wayfinding is to be able to navigate in the public and private space to reach a destination. Go from point A to point B without encountering any difficulty in finding one’s way and without getting lost.
When a person moves on foot, all his senses are awake. A pedestrian wayfinding system delivers sensory cues. It can solicit sight thanks to visual signage, audition by the transmission of sound information, olfaction with the orientation by the smells etc.
A conventional pedestrian wayfinding system therefore meets the primary need for orientation and safety using sensory information.
We will now review the needs of users according to their situation. Please click on the situation that better suits you:
Residents of a city that doesn’t have any disbility need occasional help in case of uncertainty. Wayfinding solutions then fills a grey area for example when the person doesn’t know the neighborhood well or if roadworks change the usual walking route.
A resident doesn’t need to be guided step by step but rather have a glimpse of the global journey to reassure himself in the choice of the walking itinerary. He will rely on familiar landmarks to get his way round.
Non-resident persons without disability are little familiar with their environment and therefore need help to find their way round the city. Business travelers need to find their hotel and their place of work. Tourists need to know the location of touristic places to visit, to discover the city and to know where they are. They all need to be guided step by step for the duration of their stay.
In addition to the needs of sighted people, blind pedestrians have specific needs due to their disability.
First of all, they need to appeal to a different sense than sight to find their way. Blind people necessitate non-visual cues such as tactile or auditory cues.
Another need is to feel safe while walking. Without sight, the danger is more difficult to apprehend. Wayfinding systems make it possible to overcome the visual deficit by providing clues soliciting other senses.
A blind person also needs to be able to preview his itinerary step by step before departure. Knowing the key steps is essential to anticipate changes of directions, pedestrian crossings, number of bus stations etc.
The need for reassurance and comfort in moving is also essential. A person who does not see wants to know if the path he is taking is the right one.
Finally, the need for autonomy is also essential to take into account. A blind or visually impaired person wants to be able to move alone without having to seek the help of a third person.
People with physical disabilities need to go to a destination based on their motor skills. They need to know where to go to find accessible sidewalks, elevators, slopes, etc. The importance of having a path adapted to their disability is essential.
Wheelchair users have low visibility due to their height. They need information within reach. They also have the desire to be empowered and to be completely sure that the route is accessible before following a path.
Deaf people need visual information to walk safely. Visual guidance is indeed important to meet their needs. Allowing them to get a view of their destination point is very helpful.
The information provided by wayfinding systems has a major impact on the economic, social and well-being of all.
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Complex built environment and city managers are looking for lower guided assistance costs. The economic challenge also lies in welcoming tourists. A city that informs its tourists favors its economy.
In addition, conveying a strong image by taking into account all types of disabilities is often challenging for decision makers.
Decision-makers and site managers therefore have an economic and image need to meet.
For signage installers, the set-up and the maintenance must be easy and accessible. Power connection must be minimal. They also need solutions that respect the standards of the public space: high, hygiene, solidity etc.
For digital solution designers, mapping updates must be made on a regular basis.
What are the existing wayfinding solutions?
After reviewing and understanding the needs of different groups of the population, let’s talk about existing wayfinding solutions from around the world.
Please click on the solution to access the information:
• Human solutions
Help of passersby
Benefit for end-user: human contact
Drawbacks for end-users : not reliable, not always easy to go up to a stranger in the street, impossible when there isn’t any one to ask
Wheelchair and guided assistance
Benefits for end-user: human contact, reliable, reassuring, less stressing
Drawbacks for end-users : less autonomy, need to book ahead, less spontaneity
Benefits for site managers: gives a positive image, complies with the law
Drawbacks for site managers: expensive, resource-intensive, takes time, misuse and abuse from people
• Visual solutions
Classic or connected signage
Benefits for end-user: allows to find one’s bearings with ease
Drawbacks for end-users: possible contrasts problems, too high, not multilingual, impossible to understand when illiterate, hard to update, can be poorly positioned, no audio information, infrequent
Benefits for decision-maker: streamlines human flows, attracts tourists
Drawback for decision-makers: costly maintenance, vandalism, update
• Audio solutions
Benefits for end-user: guidance and vocalization of the information, variety of audio messages, most efficient solution for blind people to walk independently and to find landmarks
Drawbacks for end-users: beacons need to be named well by the site manager, the triggering application is energy consuming
Benefits for decision-makers: accessibility of the place, attracts more visitors, proven effectiveness, connected device
Benefits for end-users: pedestrian safety, customizable, some Accessible Pedestrian Signals indicate the name of the streets, autonomy
Drawbacks for end-users: Accessible Pedestrian Signals that don’t require a remote control or a smartphone activation are noisy
Benefits for decision-makers: easy to install as they are compliant with all pedestrian signals, affordable, reduces noise pollution, ready for standards laws and needs, provides urban connectivity
• Digital solutions
Outdoor journey planner
Benefits for end-users: allows to know its location in real time, preferred features
Drawbacks for end-users: mapping is not always intuitive, doesn’t work indoor
Drawbacks for designers: needs to be updated on a regular basis
Benefits for end-users: ability to get information about an indoor location, step by step or from points of interests guidance, connection using other technologies than outdoor navigation app, customizable information according to personal preferences
Benefits for decision-makers: long-term savings over wheelchair/guided assistance and signage
Other digital pedestrian wayfinding solutions
How to Implement a Wayfinding Solution? 10 Steps to Take Action!
- Understand the needs and expectations from users: start from analyzing the needs of people with disabilities who have specific needs to expand to all audiences. Understand the needs of the users according to the people who visit the place (daily users, occasional, punctual). For each type of person arise different needs and problems,
- Analyse the environment: strengths and weaknesses of the environment. Take into account the constraints of the place,
- Consult with users: interview the end-users to confirm their needs, take time to get to know them, follow them in their journeys etc. This will allow to understand the mobility chain and solve all the problems encountered in their journeys,
- Choose the wayfinding solution that best fits the needs of the audience: human, visual, audio or digital,
- Choose the guiding solution: for digital solutions, the choice of guiding solution is important. It can be a step-by-step or strategic landmarks guidance,
- Prototype the solution,
- Test the solution with end users: use the Agile method in order to keep all the stakeholders involved in the development cycle. Have the solution tested at several stages of creation process,
- Produce the solution: use designers to create the best wayfinding solution possible,
- Develop the solution: this step requires technical skills inherent to the choice of guidance system,
- Install the solution: even for most digital solutions, on-site installation is required. It can range from beacon installation as landmarks to the installation of signage.
You now have all the keys to set up pedestrian wayfinding solutions in your city. Keep in mind that an accessible system for blind people will also be accessible for everyone. So, design for the most vulnerable people and you will reach everyone.
Over the past 50 years, most wayfindings systems were orientated for drivers. People on foot have been forgotten. The 21st century stakes have evolved especially because of climate change, fuel prices, personal health, obesity and urban livability. Pedestrian wayfinding is one of the solutions that answers to all of these major issues.
As a decision-maker, help make your city more walkable, legible and liveable for everyone!
If you like this article, you will also like this one: Making Public Transport Information Accessible to Disabled People
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