Digital Wayfinding: Identifying the lessons learned from museums, healthcare, and transit experiences

Google Maps has become smartphone users’ default digital wayfinding companion.

Google Maps has become smartphone users’ default digital wayfinding companion.

In the past three years, experience designers have unveiled ground-breaking fusions of traditional and interactive wayfinding elements, animating the public realm and moulding new user experiences. Museums, healthcare facilities, and transit systems have been particularly forward-thinking, combining apps, indoor location technology, and digital and static signage to guide visitors in and around their facilities.

This white paper explores digital wayfinding experiences across the seemingly disparate environments of art museums, hospitals, and public transit to learn what makes for the most successful and seamless blend of digital and physical guidance. The tools considered are from a user’s perspective, evaluating their usefulness in navigating and deciphering the environment. The goal is to assemble lessons in user experience and system design that can be applied to tomorrow’s digital wayfinding projects. There is a lot to be learned from interacting with this generation of tools and assessing their successes and limitations. Technology evolves swiftly, only to be outpaced by one’s expectations for it. 

Project methodology

The author visited various environments and used the digital wayfinding tools at their facilities to discern what one can learn from first-hand experience. While three creators/managers of these systems agreed to be interviewed and shared some background and usage information, this is not a data-driven analysis. The essence of this report is a heuristic evaluation—the visitor’s perception of these innovative technologies and lessons learned from that on-site experience.

Diverse missions yet similar wayfinding challenges are faced

What do museums, hospitals, and transit systems have in common? Despite their distinct roles in the civic realm, they share more than a few attributes:

 

  1. Large maze-like spaces

Many museums have outgrown their beaux-arts footprints and sprawl into contemporary additions, challenging primary circulation patterns. Medical centres often develop as accretions of buildings and additions, growing over time to span city blocks. Multi-modal transit centres weave subway, rail, and bus traffic through labyrinthine connections.

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