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Wayfinding Design Principles in Anticipation of the AODA Requirements

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The ADA and AODA Require Way Finding to be improved in Public Spaces and Offices  JESleeth, Olga Dosis, CL DeMaeyer OPC Inc

While hiking along what was supposed to be a marked trail with three friends in Muskoka we quickly found 30 minutes into the hike that we were lost lost & lost. It was only by carefully attempting to retrace our steps that we eventually found our way back to the main road.

Last weekend while in Montreal some family members and I attempted to locate an ancestor’s grave sight as part of filling in the gaps of our family tree. Not only did we not know we had driven into an adjoining cemetery (and to think we moved from the Catholic to the Protestant Cemetery at that!) we could not for the life of us find our way to the Section T let alone area number 615! There lacked signs, markers and maps around the entire cemetery to guide us in our quest.  And all of us in the car consider ourselves to be adept in way finding and reading maps.

This is a common conundrum for most people but one which illustrates if “able bodied and minded” hikers and drivers cannot find their way to a set location then what does this do for the older navigator; or those who have disabilities related to sight, hearing, spacial location or learning disabilities? It also begs the question; if you want to direct more traffic to your restaurant, bank branch, office building or museum how is poor way finding limiting business opportunities in your organization?

Way Finding may be a new word for many of our readers. Yet it forms a critical part of Universal Design no matter whether the design is for offices, retail, museums, hospitals or underground walkways. Way Finding when designed and implemented correctly is a set of design principles concerned with making spaces effectively navigable by people of all languages; sex; mental abilities, learning disabilities, stature & culture. It should take into account that visitors and users of the space may have a visual and/or hearing impairment and disability.

Navigability means that the navigator can successfully move in the space from their present location to a destination, even if the location of the destination is not precisely known.

In Way Finding there are 3 criteria which will determine the navigability of a space: 

1. whether the navigator can discover or infer their present location;
2. whether a route to the destination can be found
3. how well the navigator can accumulate way finding experience in the space.

The first criterion is the successful recovery of both location and orientation;  “Where am I?” & “Which way am I facing?”
A response to these questions can be verbal, such as “I am in Lobby C, facing Wellington St West” or in writing by drawing an arrow on a map of the location.

The second criterion for navigability is the ability to successfully perform way finding tasks. Successful way finding occurs when the navigator can make correct navigation decisions that take them from the present location to the correct destination. Examples of such decisions are whether to continue along the present route or to backtrack, what turn to take at an intersection of paths, or whether to stop and acquire information from the environment to confirm the present route.

The third criterion for navigability is how well the navigator can accumulate way finding experience in the space. The image ability of a large-scale space is the ability of a navigator to form a coherent mental image map of it. The characteristics of an urban, retail, office or other public space can be designed to affect how well people remember features in it.
In an interesting study in 1960 by Urban Planners (Lynch), residents of Boston, Los Angeles, and Jersey City were asked to draw sketch maps of their city from memory. The degree of accuracy of the sketch maps in depicting the actual layout of each city found the study  respondents organized their city images using a set of common features: paths, landmarks, regions, edges, barriers & intersections. (Recall how Hansel and Gretal dropped bread crumbs along their route with hopes to follow these back out to safety!)  The memorable features of a space is what people use to assist with Way Finding.

Landmarks are the memorable locations that help to orient the navigator; regions are distinct areas that place the navigator in one part of the environment; and nodes mark points where Way Finding decisions are made.
Since a navigator uses these features to remember their past route-following experiences, a well designed space that uses these points will be readily navigable.

Principles for effective way finding include:

  • Create an identity at each location, different from all others.
  • Use landmarks to provide orientation cues and memorable locations.
  • Create well-structured paths
  • Create regions of differing visual character.
  • Don’t give the user too many choices in navigation.
  • Use survey views (give navigators a vista or map)
  • Provide signs at decision points to help way finding decisions.
  • Use sight lines to show what’s ahead.

Way finding and Signage

Way finding has three basic forms:

  • Landmarking – this is the use of landmarks such as sculpture and art which is discussed above
  • Architectural features – such as arches over main entrances, elevator lobbies painted in bold colours, round then sharp edges at corners
  • Signage – signs are the key element in a Way finding system.

Way finding signage should follow key principles to be effective. These are:

  • Way finding is for visitors
  • Largest to smallest
  • Organize the known
  • Direct at decision points
  • Relation to the environment
  • Readability
  • Placement
  • Universal “language” and icons

To get a good handle on how Way Finding is critical to both the able bodied & disabled walk or drive around an area which you do not know very well. Have a destination point in mind. Now try to navigate using signage; directions; maps; colours and points of interest. In fact see if some of the principles have even been applied relative to finding your way to your point of interest. Once you have gone through this exercise ask yourself again if you had a visual or auditory disability, mobility related disabilities or mental or learning disabilities how would you do?  It is a great exercise to help you in your work as a Facility Manager, Designer, Architect and Building Owner. The AODA may not be in full swing as yet in Ontario but having your customers, clients or visitors find their way to your business and within your business sure will have an impact on your profitability and in having happy customers, clients, visitors who will want to come back…. and will be able to return because they can find you!

For more on this topic or to book our AODA/ADA Expert about this topic contact us at AODA@OptimalPerformance.ca or 416 860-0002.

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