Storytelling in Urban Wayfinding

Page 1

Storytelling in Urban Wayfinding

Shiho Asada

Dissertation submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the Master of Arts in Information Design, University of Reading, 2015


Formatting and printing: Shiho Asada Images: Figure 4 is recreated by Asada based on the original figure prepared by Montgomery. The rest of figures are found from books or online. The sources and URLs are included in captions. Proofreading: Andrew Baird Words: 11,823


Abstract This dissertation aims to explore the possibilities of applying storytelling approaches to the design of urban wayfinding systems. In recent years, storytelling has received increasing attention in attention in the private sector while it has also been studied extensively across academic disciplines ranging from literary studies to urban design. The Context chapter considers historical and modern interpretations of storytelling as well as providing an insight into the different types and roles of wayfinding systems. It then debates the idea of using storytelling approaches to the design of urban wayfinding systems by reviewing research on storytelling in closely related fields. Furthermore, methods of using wayfinding as a means of projecting the cultural identity of an individual city are also addressed. Interviews were conducted with two experienced designers, one working on pedestrian wayfinding and the other on digital, in order to identify how the storytelling approach can be used in practice. In the Case Studies chapter, the views of the interviewees on issues such as the interpretation and application of storytelling, the design process and cultural identity are discussed in the context of urban wayfinding. Although their approaches to the use of storytelling differ quite considerably in some aspects, they both focus on how to convey the narrative of a particular environment. The dissertation concludes that storytelling is useful at integrating various elements into a single system and cultivating a sense of place amongst those who use it.



Contents Abstract 3 1 Introduction


2 Context


2.1 The many faces of storytelling


Literary usage


Storytelling as a means of community development


The storytelling approach in the private sector


2.2 Urban wayfinding


Types of urban wayfinding


Urban wayfinding in city design


2.3  Can storytelling be used in the design of urban wayfinding systems? 18 3  Case studies: storytelling in urban wayfinding in practice


3.1 Research method


3.2.1 Pedestrian wayfinding — Ben Acornley


The meaning of storytelling


Reasons for using storytelling


Storytelling in the urban wayfinding design process


Relationship to clients


Relationship with the culture and identity of a place


Discussion 38 Summary 40

3.2.2 Interactive wayfinding — Sami Niemelä


The meaning of storytelling


Reasons for using storytelling


Storytelling in the urban wayfinding design process


Relationship to clients


Relationship with the culture and identity of a place


Discussion 47 Summary 48

4 Conclusion


Interviews 52 Bibliography 53



1 Introduction In recent years, mobile web mapping applications such as Google Maps have found use beyond their traditional function as a means of pedestrian wayfinding and have become increasingly popular for exploring cities and urban landscapes. But while Google Maps is extremely effective at finding particular routes or locations it lacks the capacity to provide users with a unique experience of the city that they are exploring. Take, for example, London and New York, beyond distinct street names and grid layouts, the experience of exploring these very different cities through Google Maps is essentially the same. As Goldberger (2007) argues, when people discover a city through their mobile phones, they may physically be in that city but their minds are focusing on other places. For many, the act of exploring a new urban landscape has therefore necessarily become less an enjoyable experience. The fact remains, however, that those visiting a particular city still want to experience those distinctive features and quirks that make that city unique even as this has become more challenging as a result of globalisation. As Simón (2013) has highlighted, it is imperative for cities to have a strong identity in order to attract tourism and enterprise in the age of globalisation. The founder of Applied Wayfinding, Tim Fendley (2015), contends; ‘The differentiation and distinctiveness peculiar to places will have more, not less, importance in the digital age. Events, unique gatherings and face to face meetings will become more powerful. And local flavour, accent, and attitude will be even more sought after.’ Fendley further states that the unique features of a particular place can be expressed through elements such as language, local knowledge and place names all of which can be utilised in the design of urban wayfinding systems, for example, city-wide transportation applications such as Citymapper. Urban wayfinding systems can therefore play an important role in improving the quality of people’s experiences of a city.


The challenges of creating an effective and enticing method of guiding people around a city, however, are numerous. Retaining the walker’s attention, navigating them to their destination and fostering an appreciation of the city are perhaps the most obvious of these challenges. In order to confront these issues, those designing urban wayfinding systems must have an understanding of a broad array of fields from urban design to user experience as well as an appreciation of both information and graphic design. But what approaches can be used in developing an effective means of urban wayfinding? Bill Moggridge (2008), one of the founders of IDEO, has suggested storytelling as a possible solution for tying together the various aspects which make a successful urban wayfinding system. He states: ‘When you put all these things together, with elements from architecture, physical design, electronic technology from software, how do you actually prototype an idea for a service, and it seems that really, it’s about storytelling, it’s about narrative.’ The ability that storytelling has to synthesise the various elements of a complex service system chimes closely with the requirements of urban wayfinding design. But the interpretation and use of storytelling described above is just one of many diverse strands of research that are currently exploring the potential of this technique. Providing a succinct description of storytelling is not simple but in essence it is a means of interaction with people and places through sharing stories and experiences. Certain scholars such as Roland Barthes (1977) have tended to focus on mediums of storytelling such as music, text and paintings to better understand their role in contributing to a narrative of society. Researchers in information design have suggested that storytelling is a method of personalising information. For example, Judith Moldenhauer, Associate Professor of Graphic Design at Wayne State University, USA has introduced the idea of storytelling to her students through a map design assignment (2003). Students were asked to design a new map of the university’s Art Department for new


and prospective students including information from their own experiences such as shortcuts they had found or difficulties that they had experienced when navigating their own way round the department. Storytelling has the potential to be a significant new approach to the development of visually striking urban wayfinding systems that provide users with an experience that is unique to the city that they are exploring. Despite this, applying storytelling techniques to urban wayfinding is an idea that has not been given full consideration. The objective of this dissertation then, is to explore the uses of storytelling in the context of urban wayfinding and uncover how it can provide a unique experience of the city to users as well as contributing to the brand of individual cities. This dissertation does not, however, seek to evaluate the merit of applied methods due to the fact that the storytelling approach in design has not been fully developed and its interpretations and uses vary significantly between practitioners. The paper will begin by considering storytelling in a variety of contexts from literary studies to business design followed by defining the areas and roles of urban wayfinding. The second part of this dissertation will analyse a series of case studies collected through interviews and will focus on how the storytelling approach can reflect unique cultural and historical features to provide a city with a strong individual identity through the lens of urban wayfinding systems.


2 Context 1. Human-centred approach Human-centred approach is to design things that meets people’s needs, capabilities and variations of behaviours (Norman 2013).

As a human centred approach1, storytelling has been increasingly used by businesses and corporations as a means of more effectively engaging with consumers and, consequently, has begun to feature strongly in areas such as urban design and information design. Before considering the idea of utilising storytelling as an approach for developing methods of urban wayfinding, it is necessary to both define storytelling within more familiar contexts as well as provide a more comprehensive understanding of what is meant by the concept of urban wayfinding.

2.1  The many faces of storytelling Literary usage Storytelling can also be referred to as narrative, a term primarily used in linguistic and literary studies. It should, however, be noted that there are clear distinctions between what is narrative and what is a story (Chatman 1978). While a story contains elements such as a plot, characters and settings, the narrative is the way in which that story is told whether that is verbally, in a film, through dance or through a landscape. Prince’s (1987), A Dictionary of Narratology defines narrative as: “The recounting (as product and process, object and act, structure and structuration) of one or more real or fictions events communicated by one, two, or several (more or less overt) narrators to one, two, or several (more or less overt) narratees.” According to this definition, text that is purely descriptive (i.e.‘the fish is blue’/ ‘Anne is tall’) cannot be narratives whereas that which depicts specific events (i.e. the fish died’/ ‘Anne broke a glass’) are considered to be narratives. As well as in the spoken or written word, these defining features of narrative are also evident in other mediums of storytelling, such as fixed or moving images, gestures, music and landscapes (Barthes 1977, 79; Prince 1987, 58). Narrative has been a key component of the cultural landscape for millennia and is a fixture of many of humanity’s most celebrated modes of


storytelling from myths, fables and epics to tragedies, comedies and dramas while also underpinning less familiar methods of storytelling such as paintings and festivals. It is clear, therefore, that narrative, through the mediums listed above, is a significant element in people’s everyday lives which has led to individuals increasingly understanding their surroundings and experiences through the recollection, interpretation and creation of stories. Storytelling as a means of community development Narrative also has an important role to play in the community; the study of the forms and functions of narrative in the everyday has been carried out by researchers’ in disciplines as wide-ranging as sociolinguistics, folklore, anthropology and literary theory who have explored the relationship between the use of language and society. As Johnstone (1990) states, narratives are ‘shared voices which reflect the texture of the community’. Narratives allow people to communicate with and understand each within communities and wider society through stories that foster a sense of shared cultural experience. Pre-historic cave drawings which depict animals, human beings and simple objects are perhaps one of the most powerful examples of this. They have been found in most parts of the world: from Europe to Africa, America, Asia, Australia, and the Polynesian Islands. The oldest ones were found in Lascaux and Niaux, southern France, drawn around 13,000 bce. The pictures (Fig. 1) were frequently drawn on cave walls serving Figure 1. Cave painting, Cougnac, France, 13,000 bce Poulin, Graphic Design + Architecture, a 20th Century History: A Guide to Type, Image, Symbol, and Visual Storytelling in the Modern World.

as a prompt to those narrating stories while also helping their audience to visualise the tale being recounted (Poulin 2012). Consequently, caves became a venue for listening to stories for these communities. Stories, therefore, not only bring people together but also tie people to specific places. The storytelling approach in the private sector In recent years, storytelling has become an influential strategy in the world of business by allowing companies to convert their insights and service ideas into user experiences. Companies now use the art of storytelling as a means of communicating with consumers as evidenced by adverts designed to portray the lives of their customers or depict the experiences of their employees. Demonstrating why a customer might use a particular product /


service or developing personas around their product/service are common examples of how this technique is utilised. By using these methods, companies are able demonstrate the applications and functions of their products to consumers much more effectively than by simply stating dry facts (Hensel 2010). A corporation which has been successful in using the storytelling approach to sell their products is technology giant Apple. Apple’s particular brand of advertising tells a story rather than simply saying ‘buy our product’ and this has evidently appealed to customers. After purchasing an iPhone at an Apple Store, the customer removes the sleek packaging in which the new phone is encased, all the while remembering the product which they have seen in adverts and displayed on Apple’s website. Once the outer packaging has been removed, the customer then finds a well-designed brochure made attractive by stunning photography before they finally uncover the much anticipated iPhone. It is this experience which has proved so appealing by giving users their own story. Although contemporary appropriations of the art of storytelling may sound different from its literary and oral origins, the role of stories in modern society remains the same, to share experiences and make things understandable to everybody in a particular community or place.

2.2  Urban wayfinding Types of urban wayfinding Wayfinding denotes the professional practice of designing and implementing systems for navigating buildings and outdoor spaces (Mollerup 2013, 26) In this dissertation, wayfinding in cities, which can be applied to urban spaces such as pedestrian walkways and transport hubs, is defined as ‘urban wayfinding’. Urban wayfinding refers to both physical (i.e. signs) and digital methods for exploring a city. The decision whether to develop a physical or digital means of wayfinding ultimately depends on its purpose. In New York, for example, WalkNYC (Fig. 2), designed by Pentagram, is a form of pedestrian wayfinding that utilises static maps and directional signs which are located on pavements and inside train stations,


while On The Go Interactive Wayfinding Kiosks (Fig. 3), operated by Control Group, are situated in subway stations and provide users with features such as countdown to arrival, real-time train information one-touch graphic maps, district maps and local advertising (Control Group 2015). Although both are managed by New York’s Metropolitan Transport Authority (mta), they clearly fulfil different functions. The emergence of digital technology has greatly expanded the potential of urban wayfinding systems. As Mollerup highlights, interactive kiosks, smartphone apps, qr codes and augmented reality not only enable people to find a route to a particular location but also facilitate the exploration and understanding

Figure 2. WalkNYC designed by Pentagram, in corporation with City ID, Billings Jackson Design, rba Group and T-Kartor, 2013

Figure 3. On The Go Interactive Wayfinding Kiosks, designed by Control Group in corporation with mta, 2014


of new urban landscapes. Moreover, utilising real time data can provide people with details of the quickest and most convenient way of getting somewhere by factoring in sources of delay such as traffic congestion. Bays and Callanan (2012) highlight that this technology is used widely by local authorities and administrations to understand the needs of urban areas as well as to overcome challenges and exploit opportunities. Urban wayfinding in city design The way in which people travel around a metropolitan area is, of course, a crucial consideration when designing a city. Before focusing on the role of wayfinding in urban design, it is necessary to highlight the essential qualities and elements of planning what could be termed a ‘good city’. Numerous theories and strategies for urban design have been put forward since the 1960s but, as the European Commission highlights in a Green Paper published in 1990, generating and protecting a sense of place is an essential element of city design. The notion of a ‘sense of place’ can broadly be defined as those unique features such as historical heritage and cultural identity which differentiate one place from another. Montgomery (1989), a renowned urban planner, points out that fostering a sense of place is at the heart of planning a good city. He also states that a good urban environment has quality in three essential areas: form (landmarks, public streets), image (legibility, symbols) and activity (street life and events, local traditions) (Fig.4). Montgomery (1989), a renowned urban planner, points out that fostering a sense of place is at the heart of planning a good city. He also states that a good urban environment has quality in three essential areas: form (landmarks and thoroughfares), image (legibility, symbols) and activity (street life, events and local traditions) (Fig.4). Montgomery stresses that these elements should blend into the fabric of the city yet should also be visually stimulating and provoke interest. Urban wayfinding has the ability to improve how people interact and engage with the character of a city and, in the following section, this is discussed and assessed in relation to the elements identified by Montgomery as being cornerstones of good city design.


Figure 4. Policy directions to foster an urban sense of place. Urban wayfinding may exists in between Form and Image, or Image and Activity (areas of grey colour). John Montgomery, ‘Making a City: Urbanity, Vitality and Urban Design.’

Street life




Cafe culture


Events Festivals Fairs Markets







Local traditions

Visibility Identity Symbols Colour Smell Sound •• Image With respect to image, the primary function of urban wayfinding systems in this area is to improve the definition and perceptibility of city forms. As Lynch (1960) states, there are five core elements which comprise the form of a city: paths, edges, districts, nodes and landmarks all of which should be clearly recognisable with intuitive and consistent symbols if an urban wayfinding system is to both capture and contribute to the form of individual cities. A map with pictograms and illustrated landmarks or a set of written instructions are, for instance, methods that can be used to emphasise the form of a city within urban wayfinding systems. New York, for example, boasts a wayfinding system that is particularly effective at demonstrating the unique form and character of the city through cartography, pictograms and typography which are consistent as well as a clear hierarchy of information (Fig.5). Moreover, illustrations of notable landmarks (Fig.6) are simplified by being easily recognisable. In addition to enhancing the definition of city forms, urban wayfinding systems also have the potential to contribute to a city’s


Figure 5 (left). WalkNYC, hierarchy of information produced by Pentagram, 2013. Figure 6 (right). WalkNYC, landmark illustrations for maps designed by Pentagram, 2013.

unique identity. London has perhaps the most famous example of this through the Transport for London logo (Fig. 7) which appears on all forms of mass transit servicing the city from boats to trams and everything in between. The logo also features on street maps and underground stations as a means of helping people to orientate themselves. This well-known symbol (Fig. 8) first appeared in 1905 Figure 7. Logo of London underground

when it was chosen as the motif that represented a wheel of train for the newly established London General Omnibus Company (Lawrence 2000). The intervening hundred years since the logo was first created has seen some changes to the original version but the blue bar and red circle, mirroring the colours of the Union Jack, has become a defining feature of London’s transportation network and a symbol of London’s identity which is recognised globally. Such as in the case of London, environmental graphics can influence the look of an urban area and contribute to the

Figure 8. The first logo of London underground Poulin, Graphic Design + Architecture, a 20th Century History: A Guide to Type, Image, Symbol, and Visual Storytelling in the Modern World


unique identity of a city. This should be factored into the design of urban wayfinding systems by reflecting the distinct cultural and historical features which make that city unique.

Furthermore, since the importance of the psychological impacts of urban design were first discussed by Lynch (1960), designers of wayfinding systems have sought to introduce cues which 2. Mental maps Lynch (1960) defines mental maps are simple sketches of maps drawn from memory of urban areas. He used mental maps collected from citizens of three cities of the USA in order to reveal the geographical and social problems of the cities.

enable people to form mental maps2. Developing systems which contribute to or invoke feelings of safety, comfort, vibrancy or quietude is essential in urban wayfinding. •• Activity A city which boasts an array of events including festivals, fairs and markets as well as a range of potential rendezvous points such as cafés or squares can be considered to sustain an environment that is both active and interactive (Montgomery 1998; de Waal 2014). Both physical and digital wayfinding systems have the capacity to showcase these features to visitors as well as providing directions for how to get to events, festivals or popular meeting places. The Tokyo Art Beat mobile application (Fig.9), for example, provides information on exhibitions and art events taking place in Tokyo and then uses gps to provide directions to where these are taking place. The app also allows the user to browse for exhibitions based on personal preferences, access reviews of exhibitions and events as well as find out where it is taking place relative to their current

Figure 9. Tokyo Art Beat app released by Gadago npo. Left: Shows exhibitions nearby a user Right: Map of nearby exhibitions


location so that events which are not to the user’s taste, unpopular or inaccessible can be easily filtered out. This kind of digital urban wayfinding therefore not only contributes to the distinct identity of a city but also helps people access events and places that they want to experience. As such, generating and protecting a sense of place may be possible by improving the quality of urban wayfinding systems available. Indeed instilling a sense of place has become increasingly important as cities vie with each other to attract enterprise and tourism on both the national and global stage (Radovic, 2008). Richard Simón (2013), Planning Director at Applied Wayfinding highlights that metropolises throughout the world are struggling to meet the challenges of developing sustainable communities, alleviating pressure on increasingly congested transport links as well as protect and promote cultural diversity. Ensuring that there are distinct features not seen anywhere else in the world is key to the planning and branding of a city.

2.3  Can storytelling be used in the design of     urban wayfinding systems? The multi-faceted, complex nature of designing methods of urban wayfinding would seem to suggest that storytelling could hold the key to the development of urban wayfinding systems which reflect the character and distinctiveness of the city that it services. Due to the limited number of sources available on the relationship between storytelling and wayfinding, this dissertation will also consider the existing literature on the impact of storytelling techniques in related fields including urban design and information design to develop a broader understanding of the benefits that the storytelling approach offers. Many scholars and practitioners in the fields identified above have reflected on the potential of storytelling in their work but interpretations and uses of it can vary considerably due to the demands and nuances of their respective areas of study. In the landscape and urban design fields, storytelling is used


to convey aspects of culture and tradition in an effort to create an image and establish a sense of place (Potteiger and Purinton 1998; Childs 2008). In some cases these stories reflect religious or political issues, ideas or values (Eagleton 1983; Duncan and Duncan 1988) such as in the case of Greater London which was established by London County Council in the wake of World War II to help address issues arising from population growth, housing shortages, unemployment and growing pressure on transport. As this example clearly demonstrates, storytelling in urban spaces reflects the cultures, traditions and political issues that shape a city’s image and identity. Similarly, environmental graphic design such as signs and billboards have been described as visual storytelling (Poulin 2012). Over the centuries, collaboration across the fields of architecture and graphic design has shaped the cityscapes that are the defining feature of urban centres across the world today. The basic tenets of environmental graphic design are typography, images and symbols all of which can be used to convey a sense of time and place in a city as well as contribute to the visual stories told by the architecture of buildings and landmarks. The entrance to the Paris Metro, designed by Hector Guimard (Fig. 10), is an iconic example of the interplay between architecture and environmental graphic Figure 10. Paris Metro Entrance designed by Hector Guimard, 1898 asp/art+nouveau/Artist+Biographies/ antiques/Decorative+Artists/education/ Hector+Guimard/id/25

design. The typography, inspired by the work of French type designer, George Auriol, exists in complete harmony with the artnouveau style of the surrounding architecture providing a striking identity and brand for the Paris Metro. The analysis above considers isolated examples of where storytelling has been incorporated into the design of urban environments and spaces but, similar to the aim of this dissertation, studies do exist which take a more holistic approach to exploring how storytelling approaches can be applied to services used and journeys taken by the public. Take, for instance, the work of Viña and Mattelmäki (2010), design researchers at Aalto University, whose innovative Spice project developed experiential

Figure 11. Mockup of a concept idea of Otaniemi metro station platform, 2010 Viña, and Mattelmäki, ‘Spicing up Public Journeys – Storytelling as a Design Strategy.’

public spaces at a Helsinki Metro station in the Otanemi district of the city (Fig. 11) which aimed to reflect the local historical and cultural character of this area. Although this project was directed


Figure 12. The path of storytelling as a design strategy prepared by Viña and Mattelmäki, 2010. Storytelling is not a single process. One process and its outcome relate to more than one next processes.

more towards space design and urban experiences, Viña and

Viña, and Mattelmäki, ‘Spicing up Public Journeys – Storytelling as a Design Strategy.’

the purpose of storytelling approaches as the need to, ‘identify,

Mattelmäkis’ interpretation of storytelling and the processes that were followed in order to create an enjoyable public space at the Metro Station in Otaniemi are remarkable. They define strengthen and create a strong identity of a place in which inhabitants and travellers can relate to’. Figure 12 is a visualisation of the processes which Viña and Mattelmäki followed in order to successfully use the storytelling approach as a design strategy. Their first step was to develop an understanding of the distinct identity of Otaniemi which was achieved through observation of the district as a whole and the environment around the Metro station. Stories from residents of Otaneimi were also gathered and collated through interview design probes, a method used by sociologists to collect data and information on user journeys and urban practices, which enabled Viña and Mattelmäki to build up a picture of the cultural history of the area and clarified specific elements of the design of the experiential space. The final part of the project was to come up with the final concept of the design based on the outcomes of their research. Viña and Mattelmäki concluded that the storytelling approach was the most effective means of realising their vision of creating an aesthetically powerful experiential space that interacts with human emotions and engages all of the senses. Moreover, storytelling was also used to create and arrange the image that the service projected. These studies suggest that there are three ways of utilising the storytelling approach in urban wayfinding. Firstly, during


the research phase when stories are collected from users and information is gathered from the surrounding environment. In terms of the information design element of wayfinding, system designers can collate users’ stories on how they journey through a given environment such as the strategies they use, what shortcuts they take and any difficulties that they encounter. They can then build up a nuanced picture of user experiences, personas and journeys from these findings (Moldenhauer 2003). Information about the identity of a specific environment or place can also be gleaned from aspects of the cityscape such as the five elements posited by Lynch (1960) (paths, edges, districts, nodes and landmarks). The heritage of a city should also be given consideration, for example, does the city have its origins as a market towns or ports or did it develop from the protection and patronage of a castle? The information gained from these areas of research is important in designing all elements of the wayfinding 3. Look and feel According to Davis (2009), it is ’the visual style of a brand which encompasses the brand mark, colours, font and images’. The look and feel produces a visual identity of the brand, and it is utilised in the commercial world.

system from its most basic functions to the overall look and feel3 of the system. Secondly, storytelling is also effective at developing a holistic service system that incorporates the many different requirements of urban wayfinding in the 21st Century which demands the coordination and management of an array of organisations, service

4. Touchpoint Touchpoint is defined as ‘any point of contact between a Customer and the Service Provider’ (The Master Board 2013). Regarding urban wayfinding system, touchpoints are pedestrian signs, maps in transportation and mobile applications.

touchpoints4 and design features. Despite the complex make up of cities, in the main people are disinclined to learn more than one method of wayfinding and, as such, Fendley (2015) has suggested that cities should have just one user-friendly system. Stories which are developed from an understanding of the needs of customers’ and the interplay between people and places is a means of tying the cityscape, architecture, communication, marketing and user experience elements of urban wayfinding together. Storytelling, therefore, is a way of creating a service and system that fulfils users’ requirements while at the same time cutting through the complexity of cities. Lastly, methods of urban wayfinding developed using the storytelling approach are able to engender a sense of place. The local characteristics and identity of a place which are unearthed during the research phase of the project can be reflected in aspects


of the system such as place names, typography, colour palette and how landmarks are illustrated. All of these features help to capture the distinctive social and historical narrative that makes each city unique. It can therefore be asserted that the storytelling approach enables designers to create comprehensive, human-centred wayfinding systems which provide users with a unique experience of the city they are in. Beyond their primary function as a navigational tool, wayfinding systems can impart information about the history and traditions of a city through succinct, well organised facts and anecdotes while its cultural identity and character can be reflected through its visual aspects. If urban wayfinding is able to marry these features tastefully it will contribute to both a distinctive identity of the city and generate a sense of place. It is, however, rare for wayfinding designers to attempt to capture the cultural identity of the city in the systems that they create. Krzysztofiak (2011), in his thesis Wayfinding in Poland, concludes that many wayfinding designers in Poland are unaware of the impact that the visualisation of wayfinding can have on the image and branding of public places. He discovers that designers give little thought to the notion of trying to reflect Polish culture and identity in the systems they develop suggesting a lack of understanding of the importance of wayfinding as a form of environmental graphic design. Rather it appears that greater significance has been placed on ensuring that representations are accurate and easily understood. Watson and Bentley (2007) assert that every aspect of a city contributes to how its identity is constructed and projected. Wayfinding may just be one small part of the many elements and features that comprise a city but it undoubtedly has a part to play through the provision of a unique experience which offers a distilled version of that city’s distinct identity to users. The next chapter will explore how storytelling can be applied to the design and development of wayfinding systems that convey a narrative and contribute to a city’s identity by analysing two case studies.


3  Case studies: storytelling in    urban wayfinding in practice 3.1  Research method The limited number of sources available on how storytelling can be applied to urban wayfinding does present some challenges for developing a coherent understanding of the relationship between the two. Furthermore, as alluded to above, storytelling is, by nature, ambiguous meaning that the interpretation and uses of this approach for the purposes of urban wayfinding design has the potential to vary considerably among practitioners. For this reason, it was decided to conduct more accurate research by interviewing experts in the field of urban wayfinding with a focus on how they have interpreted and utilised the storytelling approach in their own projects. Designers who practice storytelling methods in either physical or digital urban wayfinding systems were invited to take part in interviews. The first of these was with Ben Acornley, Partner and Creative Director at Applied Wayfinding, UK. Acornley has been involved in numerous urban wayfinding projects including Legible London as well as having a wealth of experience in the areas of editorial and branding. Acornley was approached for an interview on account of his intuitive use of storytelling approaches when developing methods of pedestrian wayfinding as well as his insights on detailed visual communication and branding. The second interviewee was Sami Niemelä, Creative Director and Co-Founder of Nordkapp based in Helsinki. One of his major projects, Urbanflow, is a concept piece which posits the idea of an operating system for individual cities (Nordkapp and Urbanscale 2011). Niemelä was approached for an interview due to his efforts to create better urban spaces through human-centred interaction design as well as his use of storytelling for prototyping interactive wayfinding and product presentation. Acornley was asked to propose the most convenient time for an interview and this was conducted at the office of Applied Wayfinding. The conversation which took place was recorded and notes were taken. Due to the length of the discussion and the complex nature of some of the


language used, the interview is only partially transcribed and is summarised rather than written in full in this dissertation. The interview with Niemelä was conducted in the form of an email questionnaire and is cited in full. The disparity in the volume of material taken from each interview is due to the different ways that they were conducted with Acornley’s interview yielding much more information due to the fact that it was a one-hour conversation in person during which numerous projects were discussed. By contrast, the interview with Niemelä by email only gave the opportunity to discuss one project. The two participants were asked the same set of questions regarding urban wayfinding projects that they have been involved in, with a specific emphasis on uncovering what the concept of storytelling means to them, the advantages of the storytelling approach at different phases of the design process and the effect it has on user experience and visual outcomes. The first five questions were specifically ordered to mirror the process of wayfinding design: defining meaning and methodology, developing the system and the concept, designing the visuals and, lastly, evaluating the results. The final question, Question 6, sought to explore how storytelling relates to the culture and identity of a place. The section on case studies is divided between the two interviewees. Each case will begin with a description of the participants’ company and some of the projects they have been involved in following which the interviewee and their role in each of the projects will be introduced. Finally, their answers to each of the questions will be presented and discussed in detail. The contents of each interview will be categorised into the following five sections: The meaning of storytelling, Reasons for using storytelling, Storytelling in the urban wayfinding design process, Relationship to clients and Relationship with the cultural and identity of a place. The answers to Question 5 will be integrated into the discussions on Questions  3 and 6 as they are closely related.


List of questions: 1. What does storytelling mean to you? 2. Why do you use storytelling in your wayfinding project? 3. How do you use storytelling in your wayfinding project? At what stages in designing do you use storytelling? 4. How do you introduce the concept of storytelling into a client’s brief? 5. In what ways has storytelling affected the outcomes of your projects? 6. In what ways do you relate storytelling to the culture and identity of a place? How does this affect the visual design?

3.2.1  Pedestrian wayfinding — Ben Acornley Although there is an abundance of research material available on pedestrian wayfinding, the majority of it tends to concentrate on ways to improve the legibility and usability of these systems through visual design, for example, colour contrasts and typography. This would appear to suggest that more research is required on enhancing user experience and the contribution that wayfinding can make to the identity of a city. Indeed, Applied Wayfinding have implemented a number of pedestrian wayfinding projects during which they have conducted extensive research on user experiences and how these systems translate across cultural boundaries. To explore how Applied Wayfinding have combined the findings of their research with the narrative of the areas in which they created wayfinding systems was the purpose of the interview with Ben Acornley. Applied Wayfinding is an international consultancy based in London which has built its name on designing legible systems for diverse and complex environments. The Company garnered a strong reputation in the wake of their Legible London (Fig. 13–15) project and have grown to become the global standard for urban wayfinding design. Following the success of Legible London and, using the strategy and processes they developed for this project, Applied Wayfinding has designed systems for cities throughout the world including Manchester, Vancouver, Hong Kong and Qatar


Figure 13 (left). Legible London, map in underground stations designed by Applied Wayfinding Figure 14 (right). Legible London, on-street minilith designed by Applied Wayfinding

Figure 15. Legible London, totem sign designed by Applied Wayfinding

as well as developing a system for Heathrow Airport. Through these projects, Applied Wayfinding have been at the forefront of exploring the potential of urban wayfinding which they have achieved through careful research and intelligent analysis of the legibility of cities. Despite the complex environments and information with which they work, expertise in the editorial and design fields have allowed them to ensure that the experience of the end user is the focus of the systems that they create. Ben Acornley is a Partner and Creative Director of Applied Wayfinding, leading the design development of numerous major urban wayfinding projects undertaken by Applied Wayfinding including in London, Leeds, Bournemouth, Vancouver and at Heathrow Airport. He also supervised the creation and implementation of the Legible London prototype which was piloted on Bond Street. Before joining Applied Wayfinding, he had


worked for many years at branding design studios. His background in editorial design, branding and in-depth understanding of typography have strongly influenced the visual presentation of the wayfinding projects undertaken by the Company. In the following sections, a summary of the interview with Acornley is provided and is considered in conjunction with a book which was been written on the Legible London project entitled Yellow Book: A Prototype Wayfinding System for London, published by Applied Information Group (now Applied Wayfinding) in 2007. The meaning of storytelling For Acornley, storytelling is about effectively interpreting and projecting the image of a particular place by understanding its essential components and characteristics. He believes that while landmarks and tourist attractions are important protagonists in the narrative of any city, to understand the full story one must look beyond the obvious and consider every facet of that city’s character including the people that make up the city and the culture and traditions to which they contribute. This interpretation of storytelling chimes with the perspective of many urban designers (Potteiger and Purinton 1998; Childs 2008) particularly Acornley’s view on the role that architectural and cultural features play in a city’s story. Reasons for using storytelling Acornley’s rationale for using storytelling is to help people understand a place in a way that is friendly and accessible. He argues that many existing wayfinding projects are based on disseminating information rather than producing designs which engage with pedestrians. In essence, this means that information on these wayfinding systems may be aesthetically pleasing but this is often at the expense of their intuitiveness and usability for pedestrians. As Acornley points out, information or maps which are presented in a complex format can often frustrate users. Presenting information in simple and consistent manner on the other hand, such as through the storytelling approach, allows users to pick up necessary information easily. The interviewee also emphasised that he aims to provide users with an engaging


and informative experience that connects them with their surroundings, something which storytelling is particularly effective at achieving. If urban wayfinding can provide tourists with good experiences and leave them with fond memories of the place they have visited by providing an effective and informative means of navigation then this will hopefully make them more likely to want to return. Conversely, poorly designed wayfinding systems which lead to visitors getting lost will ultimately make them less likely to want to come back. Storytelling in the urban wayfinding design process As explained above, Acornley’s interpretation of storytelling is a method which enables designers to capture the character of a specific place and, consequently, begins during the research phase of the project when it is considered alongside the needs of people and visitors as they interact with the surrounding environment. Storytelling is further used to provide a succinct description of the city which can be easily understood by local residents and visitors alike. The storytelling approach is therefore applicable during numerous phases of the project from the initial research to the development and implementation of the system. •• Identifying the character of a place Acornley emphasises that environmental information, forms of architecture and graphic language are picked up and decoded as representations of a particular place. In the case of Legible London, building design, urban form, street layout, lighting, use of street furniture and public art are the important elements (Applied Information Group 2007); Acornley describes these features as ‘the story of architecture’. Although identifying the character of a place constitutes the initial stage of the project, the information that this research provides is fundamental in shaping the way in which the system develops and how the visual elements of the way finding system are designed. •• Observing people According to Acornley, how people move around a place, their cultural background and the type of information they require should all be clearly understood when developing a wayfinding


system. Conducting interviews with users about their experiences and journey through the environment where the wayfinding system will be located is an effective means of collecting and collating users’ stories. The interviewee cited to the project which he undertook in Qatar as an example, stating that ‘because of the heat, people in Qatar prefer using their cars rather than walking, so they need information about car parking’. Therefore, the information that people require depends on their behaviours and customs. Visiting the location where the wayfinding system will be located in order to conduct field research is perhaps the best way of observing people and gathering user stories. •• User persona Acornley asserts that designers should seek to understand and develop systems that meet the needs and expectations of different groups of users including residents, tourists and commuters. The journeys that these groups take through an environment vary considerably and thus observations should lead to the development of several user personas that will inform the eventual design of the system. In the case of Legible London, the project team identified four main groups of people from their research, namely novice striders, expert striders, novice strollers and expert strollers (Applied Information Group 2007). Those termed as striders wish to travel efficiently utilising available methods of transport whereas strollers prefer to traverse and explore the city on foot (Fig.16). Legible London was created in order to meet the needs of all the four groups identified during the research phase is reflected in the user experience. Such as in this case, designing a system which is capable of responding to the requirements of each user persona identified is a necessity for the development of a successful method of wayfinding. •• Mapping Mapping and coding information collected during the research phase of the project were also highlighted by Acornley as an important aspect of storytelling. In order for pedestrians to orientate themselves effectively, Acornley stresses the importance of creating maps, and this is a common theme throughout the wayfinding projects that he has been involved with. Legible London


Different goals Different journeys

of all people, and for all parts of the capital. Whether that is someone with knowledge of an area or not, the system supports and enhances their understanding to enable better walking

Figure 16. Legible London,diagrams of two types of user journeys produced by Applied Wayfinding Applied Information Group, Yellow Book: A Prototype Wayfinding System for London.

way – tells us a lot about how they may plan and carry out journeys; the methods identified in this book work with this understanding.

A strider’s journey A strider’s goals include efficient travelling. Striders needs the walking architecture to connect up different transportation modes and nodes –

primarily ‘Tube and walk’ in London. Their conceptual model of their journey is like ‘stones skimming accross the pond’. The strategy is ‘get near, then find it’.

I'm here

A learnin

Novice stri Has a specifi in mind but London too in learning q from A to B

I'm there



A stroller’s journey A stroller’s goals are memorable experiences. Strollers need the walking system to work for them opportunistically at the

A wande

street level – allowing them to drift, wander and have the confidence to get lost. The conceptual model of a stroller is akin to ‘ripples in a pond’.

Novice stro Uses their i to explore a interesting the city.

Where shall we go? Here? Here?




Or here?


Finish Finish


Yellow book map termed a ‘Planner’ has two different types of map, a wider 26

Legible London

or ‘15-minute map’ (Fig. 17) which primarily show how close areas are to each other as well as pinpointing transport hubs. As such, these maps are designed to help people plan long distance journeys on foot and keep track of where sites such as bus stops and underground stations are located. ‘Finder’ or ‘5-minute’ maps (Fig.18) are narrower but provide a more detailed representation of a smaller area with landmarks appearing as 3d illustrations in order to guide users to the end point of their journey. The two types of maps have described above fulfil separate functions and provide user experiences that are distinct. The project which Applied Wayfinding undertook at Heathrow Airport was designed for a different type of wayfinding from those created for urban environments and this has necessarily impacted on the look and feel of the system. Acornley highlights that the primary function of the mapping at Heathrow airport is to help people find the quickest route between two places as well as to locate shops and restaurants. The movement of people in airports


are many an change durin when agreem or when a toi

Figure 17. Planner/ 15-minute map of Legible London by Applied Wayfinding exhibitions/2011/talktome/assets/

Figure 18. Finder/ 5-minute map of Legible London by Applied Wayfinding https://onemillionsigns.files.wordpress. com/2009/04/picture-85.png


is governed by flight schedules and this can often make for a stressful experience. At the same time, however, when they aren’t dashing from check-in to boarding, people want to be able to go for a coffee or visit duty free and both of these extremes had to be factored into the design of their wayfinding system. To address this challenge, Applied Wayfinding created information hierarchies which were reflected in the design of maps with the location of individual terminals being the most important feature, followed by gates, shops and so on. It was also important to link the hierarchy together so that spatial relationships are clearly identifiable to users. The result was the creation of what has been termed a ‘Living Map’ system (Fig. 19–21) which accurately represents the layout of the entire airport and clearly demonstrates the easiest and quickest way to get between two places. The map is available in both digital (on the Heathrow Airport website and mobile app) and printed formats (on signs and printed in airport magazines), it is necessary to update the map every two weeks reflecting the fact that Heathrow Airport is perpetually in flux. Having both printed and digital versions means that those passing through the airport can access information about the location of shops, restaurants and other facilities in whichever format they prefer. By comparison, the wayfinding systems in operation at the majority of airports around the world are largely similar in terms of the typeface and colour schemes they use with most opting for a sanserif font in black on a yellow background. Despite the fact that the wayfinding system at Heathrow utilises the same colour palette as at most airports, the Living Map offers travellers an experience Figure 19. Living Map System for Heathrow Airport, mobile application designed by Applied Wayfinding

which is unique to Heathrow Airport and one which enables them to use their time more efficiently. Some designers are sceptical about the necessity of a detailed map in wayfinding systems and prefer to use a more minimalistic approach which relies on streamlined directional signage. Applied Wayfinding (Applied Information Group 2007) contests this view, describing maps as the simplest and most effective way of providing users with a wealth of information. Maps offer a rich experience and have the capacity to provide a quick answer to questions that users may have about their present location, where their destination is situated, the quickest route to their destination


Figure 20. Living Map System for Heathrow Airport, heads-up sign designed by Applied Wayfinding

Figure 21. Living Map System for Heathrow Airport, web site designed by Applied Wayfinding


as well as the length of the time the journey might take. It can therefore be said that maps are at the heart of the storytelling approach in urban wayfinding design. •• Designing the visual It is Acornley’s view that visual outcomes should be related to the features of where the wayfinding system is being designed for such as iconic locations and landmarks. Elements of the system such as product design, colour palette and 3d illustrations of buildings (Fig. 22) should be a reflection of the identity and narrative of where it is located. In the Legible London project, for example,

Prototype in the West End Universal design 3D buildings People who struggle to read Figure 22. Legible London, 3d maps, building for including people learning maps designed bywith Applied Wayfinding disabilities, will find the 3D Applied Information Group, Yellow Book: A buildings useful. They provide Prototype Wayfinding System of forkey London. both a literal representation landmarks, and make the reading of maps more intuitive.

Useful detail the typeface used is same as one used by Transport for London, People with limited mobility, New Johnston 23). Acornley suggests that if aspects of the including many older(Fig. people, need to know how far it is to surrounding are evident in the visual aesthetic of the walk to a place, andenvironment if there will be any parks on the way in which system this will provoke an unconscious fascination in users. It is, they can find a seat to rest.

The system is devised for inclusion people need to plan a trip however, also important to ensure Many that information is presented of everyone, no matter what level of before travelling. Over time it is hoped clearly and succinctly so People as not to appear daunting or difficult to knowledge or ability they have. that the system can expand to provide are all different. We all have trouble connected methods to better plan decipher. This is why buildings and landmarks are illustrated in finding our way at some time, but some and then situate in the street. 3d (Fig. 22) on maps designed people need specific information to by Applied Wayfinding as what is make a journey possible.

sacrificed in the technical aspects of the illustration are more than on the of the map particularly for people who made up for in“You theare usability south-west corner of

may struggle toCavendish read maps such Square, in as those with learning disabilities Marylebone, at the

(Applied Information Group back of John Lewis2007). Therefore, the storytelling department store approach can influence wayfinding design by helping it to reflect and next to…” Figure 23. New Johnston Transportation for London originally designed by Edward Johnston, and redesigned by Eiichi Kono Applied Information Group, Yellow Book: A Prototype Wayfinding System for London. Typography

A clear and recognisable sans-serif typeface is common throughout the maps and signs. Where possible, upper and lower case characters are used for maximum legibility; however, the cartographic convention for capitalising important place names is also adopted.

the character and features of the surrounding environment while at the same time presenting concise, well-organised information to users. It is these features that both enrich a user’s experience and give them greater confidence in exploring the city around them. Relationship to clients According to Acornley, the storytelling approach can be adapted and implemented flexibly depending on the design brief provided by the client. Although the majority of Applied Wayfinding’s

Linked appearance Useful detail customers are city councils, the reasons behind the development Awareness Connectivity canof also People with wheelchairs need A possibleUppercase adaptationtypography All kinds supporting of found these can be different, some being be the street names; to knowwith if a route has steps or for the for the future is a insystems knowledge canvastly be this reflects the unified styletoofmobile narrow pavements, and where system for helping the delivered benefit of tourists while are for thetorevitalisation of shopping street nameplates. An added find adapted toilets. Similarly, visually impaired to devices through the benefit of workingsigns; with existing those with visual impairments navigate by relaying a ‘listen to this areas in town centre. Acornley believes it is the designer’s systems in this way is that need to know where pedestrian their proximity to signs sign’ feature provides speakers a for crossing are as a safe place to those to a mobile device. of languages helpful hints responsibility to with understand the type of experience that non-Roman alphabet may find cross the road. visitors. it easier to relate streets on the commissioning wayfinding systems want to provide users with map to street nameplates. 43 Legible London Yellow book


and then consider the best format and approach (i.e. walking map or mobile application) to use in order to achieve this. For example, Walk Brighton (Fig. 24–27), is a wide-ranging wayfinding system developed by Applied Wayfinding in conjunction with Brighton and Hove City Council in order to enhance tourism in the area (Applied Wayfinding 2015). Monolith signs have been constructed throughout the city, including on the beach, and provide an intuitive navigational tool for visitors. Conversely, Leeds Walk It (Fig. 28–30) was developed with the City Centre Management Team of Leeds City Council in order to facilitate better integration between two new major shopping centres, Trinity Leeds and Eastgate Quarters and has been successful in improving the experience for shoppers’ in Leeds. Legible London, by contrast was project with a number of stakeholders spanning transportation authorities, local government and the business community including Westminster City Council, the New West End Company, Transport for London, the Mayor of London and the Crown Estate. The brief was to design a harmonised wayfinding system across the capital in time for the London Olympic Games in 2012. Applied Wayfinding was successful in balancing the expectations of all parties involved in the project to create a system that is deceptively simple given the large and diverse area that it covers. The outcome of this project has significantly contributed to improving tourism and has increased the commercial success of the area that it covers. Wayfinding is far more nuanced than simply directing people to a particular location and, as this section shows, there can be any number of reasons why a local authority or business might commission a wayfinding system. The flexible nature of storytelling makes it suitable for a variety of purposes and can be adapted to encapsulate the character and identity of where the wayfinding system is being developed for. Relationship with the culture and identity of a place As described above, urban wayfinding systems are the culmination of stories taken from the surrounding environment, end users and those who have commissioned the project, all of which are intimately connected to the culture and identity of the place where the wayfinding system is located. Acornley summarises this by contrasting two of Applied Wayfinding most significant


Figure 24 (left). Walk Brighton, minilith sign designed by Applied Wayfinding Figure 25 (right). Walk Brighton, on-street monolith designed by Applied Wayfinding

Figure 26. Walk Brighton, Brighton iconography designed by Applied Wayfinding

Figure 27. Walk Brighton, Brighton base map designed by Applied Wayfinding


Figure 28. Leeds Walk It, on-street monolith designed by Applied Wayfinding

Figure 29. Leeds Walk It, on-street map designed by Applied Wayfinding

Figure 30. Leeds Walk It, Leeds handy map for the shopping area designed by Applied Wayfinding


projects, Legible London and Walk Brighton. In particular, the typography and colour palette used for the Legible London is strongly influenced by the classic and sober visual identity of the city it represents. In conjunction with the impact of utilising a font similar to that used by Transport for London, the use of uppercase lettering on Legible London maps (Fig. 31) is in order to mirror the look of London street signs (Fig. 32) (Applied Information Group 2007). This is also useful for individuals from countries who use a non-Roman alphabet by allowing them to relate street signs to information contained within the maps more easily. Furthermore, the combination of white or yellow text on a dark blue background reflects the character of London while ensuring that text is clear to users. The visual identity of Walk Brighton differs considerably from the look of Legible London, reflecting Brighton’s character as a vibrant city whose location by the sea has made it popular with Linked appearance of typography Figure 31 (above). ‘OXFORD STREET’ on a map of Legible London designed by Applied Wayfinding Figure 32 (below) ‘OXFORD STREET’ on a street sign, London Applied Information Group, Yellow Book: A Prototype Wayfinding System for London

tourists. The pale green colour in the design shown in Figure 24 was taken from the fences situated along the beach. Moreover, the maps located along the promenade are longer than those in the town centre thereby reflecting the topography of the beach. Acornley indicates that the amount of information contained on the maps is significantly less than those designed for the Legible London project. The maps in Walk Brighton are relatively fixed and enable tourists to roam around Brighton’s beach, town centre and parks freely. The separate wayfinding systems designed for London and Brighton are a celebration of the distinct cultural and historical identity of each city something which is clearly reflected in the design and usability of the systems created by Applied Wayfinding and is something which should be aspired to in all wayfinding projects. By doing so, these systems can contribute to the sense of place and a city’s individual identity as discussed in Chapter 2. Discussion Acornley utilises storytelling throughout many stages of the wayfinding design process including research, cartography and visual development. His approach to storytelling shares similarities with the three ways of using this method for developing wayfinding systems identified in Chapter 2: understanding user personas and journeys, developing a holistic


system and ensuring that the completed project reflects the cultural identity of the place in which it is located. As emphasised on a number of occasions throughout the interview, however, Acornley believes the storytelling approach to be at its most useful in identifying and translating the distinct features of a place. These are gathered through architectural and environmental information as well as by developing an understanding of people’s needs and movements. Once these features have been identified they can be reflected in the visual design of the wayfinding system such as through the typography, colour palette and even the shape of signs as demonstrated in the Walk Brighton project (Fig. 24). People’s behaviours when journeying through a particular environment can then be distilled into user personas which influence the appearance of maps and other aspects of the system. Thus, the storytelling approach has the capacity to contribute to wayfinding systems that are entirely unique both in terms of visual design and user experience from those which exist in other cities. Applied Wayfinding have conducted projects for numerous cities throughout the world and, as such, it can be surmised that their customers wish to have a method of wayfinding that reflects the distinct feel and identity of their city. A thorough understanding of the individual requirements of particular types of clients (i.e. city councils and transportation authorities) is also an important additional element to the field research undertaken. Moreover, Acornley stresses that providing visitors with an immersive and interesting experience of exploring a city will make them more likely to return. By using storytelling approaches designers can create urban wayfinding systems which enable pedestrians to navigate the city with confidence and build detailed mental maps of the city while the system itself can also contribute to the projection of a distinct identity which is the goal of all cities around the world.


Summary »» Storytelling is to pick up the features of place »» Stories are collected from environments, users and clients »» Storytelling approach should be developed flexibly adjusted for each city »» Storytelling can be used in many phases in designing: research, mapping and visual development »» Visual outcomes reflect the features and identity of the place

3.2.2  Interactive wayfinding — Sami Niemelä Real-time data is a phenomenon which has only recently been considered by designers as a way of improving the information available through urban wayfinding. As a result, the majority of cases discussed in this section are still in the development or prototype phase. The advantages that real-time data can bring to urban wayfinding, however, are not disputed and it is anticipated that the opportunities it presents for ensuring that information is always accurate and up-to-date have important implications for the future of urban wayfinding. Although the Urbanflow (2011) project which has been developed by Nordkapp is still in the prototype stage, it offers an excellent example of how storytelling can contribute to the development of interactive wayfinding models particularly given that storytelling can enhance the prototyping process. The prototype model of Urbanflow is currently being developed for Helsinki and so the project is called Urbanflow Helsinki. To uncover how the storytelling approach can be used in prototyping interactive forms of wayfinding through display screens in urban centres was the reason that Sami Niemelä was chosen as an interviewee. Nordkapp is a product and information design firm based in Helsinki, Finland. They specialise in developing strategic approaches to information and data visualisation as well as interaction and interface design. Urbanflow Helsinki is a prototype project co-created by Nordkapp and Urbanscale and which proposes an operating system for Helsinki which generates and curates real-time data which is then fed back to the city (Nordkapp


and Urbanscale 2011). The aim of the project is to ‘make the city more accessible and enjoyable for both residents and visitors through a situated interactive service which uses living data from the city. It would offer far-reaching benefits for both city administrators and local citizens. Urbanflow can be tailored to meet the needs and address the challenges of different cities, in its prototype form, however, it is Urbanflow Helsinki and has been developed in conjunction with Forum Virium Helsinki, a research centre owned by the City of Helsinki to invent and design new digital service. Although this project is not yet at the stage of installing screens in Helsinki, a concept video (Fig. 33) was released in 2011, which offers an insight into what it is intended Urbanflow will look like when it is finished. The video also demonstrates the advantages that the system will provide when it has been completed including the use of information outlets such the screens mentioned above for wayfinding and other purposes, allowing eventual users to visual how the Urbanflow Helsinki will work in practice. Sami Niemelä is the Creative Director of Nordkapp. His primary involvement in the Urbanflow project has been to refine the concept, conduct research, develop the prototype and direct presentational videos. Niemelä’s vision is to use design in order to rethink cities and urban living through ‘the lens of functional and human centric design (Niemelä 2012). He has an intrinsic appreciation of simplicity which owes much to his time growing up in the Finnish countryside while his preference for functional design, apparent in Alva Aalto, echoes Finland’s socialist political model. Besides urban information design, Niemelä has strong insights into interaction and interface design. The following are Niemelä’s answers to the email interview in which he participated, considered with references to a blog which he wrote entitled Building Urbanflow Helsinki (2011) and a talk which he gave at the Mashable Innovation Series / BMW Guggenheim Labs Berlin on Stories, Behaviour and Purpose.


Figure 33. Urbanflow Helsinki, concept video produced by Nordkapp, 2011 This video shows how Urbanflow works in the real world in combination of filming and motion graphics. Although this project looks futuristic, this video enables viewers to imagine how it benefits them.


The meaning of storytelling Niemelä (2012) has drawn attention to the fact that the use of stories, or narratives, as a medium of communication is something shared by all cultures and civilizations for multiple purposes such as education, entertainment, and cultural preservation or for inculcating moral values in the community. Moreover, within the context of an urban environment, Niemelä asserts that storytelling can be a way of visualising the inordinate amount of data and information that cities produce. Reflecting on those views in light of his own experience, Niemelä suggests that: ‘Storytelling equals communication. Finding a suitable narrative to tell a story fit to a preset context is an important part of storytelling.’ Therefore, it can be said that storytelling has the potential to be an effective means of presenting interesting and informative data for the purposes urban wayfinding. Reasons for using storytelling Niemelä has identified three primary reasons for utilising the storytelling approach: 1.  ‘Video is an excellent way to encapsulate a story. A good design   fiction, speculative or product video tells a self-contained story of the why, what and how of a product.’ 2.  ‘Writing the narrative to the story forces you to think and prioritise, especially when writing a “sales pitch” to someone else. A voiceover and the reasonably short length of an average user’s attention span is a good restriction.’ 3.  ‘Lastly, on product level storytelling is a great way to introduce a product and the thing it does.’ Niemelä uses storytelling to encapsulate and visualise the story of a product and present this in a concise way. He also highlights (2012) the importance of sharing the backgrounds and concepts behind a story which enables people to better empathise and understand it. As Urbanflow is a prototype, it is particularly important to communicate the idea to local businesses and the


City Council and win their support for the project. Promotional videos can be an effective and concise means of doing this by clearly demonstrating how users can interact with the system through urban screens while also providing insights into what advantages it can bring to the city and its inhabitants. Thus short videos are able to share both the concept and the advantages of projects such as Urbanflow Helsinki to system designers, potential stakeholders and future users. Storytelling in the urban wayfinding design process •• Making a concept and scenarios of a product Niemelä states: ‘For Urbanflow, the story was the final product. After the initial concept stage, communicating and truncating the story helped us to crystallize what we had.’ Urbanflow Helsinki is the culmination of extensive research and in depth analysis of the findings of this research. Firstly, Nordkapp conducted studies on interactive elements of the cityscape exploring how people interacted with twenty different urban screens in Helsinki. At the time this research took place, urban screens were, in the main, non-interactive and were largely used for advertising purposes. This was followed up with interviews and observations in the cities of Helsinki and Tallinn over the course of a year to develop an understanding of people’s needs. From this research they identified three potential scenarios for using urban screens (Niemelä 2011; Nordkapp and Urbanscale 2011): •• Wayfinding for visitors and tourists (Fig. 34): it enables users to plan their journeys through live transit information and route suggestions. •• Showing and visualising real time information (Fig. 35) in relevant to people’s lives such as energy consumption, traffic density air quality and municipal works. •• Enabling people to give direct feedback to the City. Nordkapp developed the concept of Urbanflow around the three scenarios listed above. Niemelä (2012) describes the project as ‘a


piece of design fiction telling a story of how urban screens have a place in the city enhancing people’s lives and making the city more transparent and friendly for all’. In this way, storytelling has the ability to integrate and provide useful information from a city to its inhabitants in a logically ordered and attractive way. As a direct consequence of the research conducted and the presentation on the Urbanflow initiative which Niemelä and his team delivered, Nordkapp gained support in developing and implementing their idea from Urbanscale and Forum Virium in 2010. •• Introducing the product Another function of storytelling is, as mentioned in a previous section, to present the features of a prototype in an appealing way. Niemelä stated in the interview that, ‘storytelling is an integral part of a design project. Everything boils down to communicating.’ Such as in the case of Urbanflow, producing a concept video in the

Figure 34. Urbanflow Helsinki, live wayfinding using real-time transit information designed by Nordkapp, 2011 urbanflow-a-citys-information-visualized-inreal-time#1

Figure 35. Urbanflow Helsinki, visualisation of real-time information designed by Nordkapp, 2011 urbanflow-a-citys-information-visualized-inreal-time#1


final phase of the project could be an effective of way of winning support for a project. •• Effects on the outcome Regarding the impact of storytelling on the outcomes of a project, however, Niemelä states: ‘Like I said, everything is a story, and design is about communicating. I wouldn’t say storytelling itself has much effect, but instead it just is part of the final delivery. A video is a video of course, so that sets the tone and bar for a certain type of resources.’ This shows clearly that he does not believe storytelling has a direct or tangible influence on outcomes. Rather, he emphasises the role of storytelling as a communication tool useful during the implementation phase of the project and how it can be used to present ideas in an appealing way. Relationship to clients In his answer to question 4, Niemelä states that, ‘sometimes as an end product [a video], most times not at all since it is a part of the process anyway’ Niemelä’s primary use of the storytelling approach is to distil a number of factors into a single concept. Urbanflow’s concept video, for example, is successful at integrating elements such as the background, purposes and values of the projects in order to communicate these to clients. For prototype projects, demonstrating what the system will be able to do when it is fully functional could be vital for securing the support and funding from clients and stakeholders. Relationship with the culture and identity of a place Niemelä indicates: ‘The culture and identity of a place tell the story at large. Graphic design is a strong part of identity of a place– both current in form of advertising and wayfinding as well as in layered history such as remains of past places, signs and so forth.’ Even advertising and wayfinding look different, as Niemelä states, both


of them are environmental graphic designs that represent the features of a place, construct its cityscape and form an identity. The design of the Urbanflow Helsinki map (Fig. 36)is also inspired by the look and feel of Helsinki (Nordkapp and Urbanscale 2011). Yet the system is also highly flexible and can be adapted to fit with the aesthetic and reflect the identity of other cities by changing features such as typography. Additionally Niemel채 (2012) considers a city to consist of numerous layers that have developed at different speeds and which have come into being at different times. The layers referred to by the interviewee are things such as fashion, commerce, infrastructure, governance, culture and nature. Urban interactive wayfinding can therefore combine these physical and figurative layers of a city through digital technology in order to add new meanings to abandoned spaces and recount the story of a place Figure 36. Urbanflow Helsinki, interface of map designed by Nordkapp Typeface: Proxima Nova designed by Mark Simonson On urban screens, this typeface balance legibility and warms. urbanflow-a-citys-information-visualized-inreal-time#1

from a variety of perspectives. As such, digital wayfinding systems can contribute to the character of a city and emphasise aspects which give it a distinct identity. Discussion The talk entitled Stories, Behaviour and Purpose (2012) which Niemel채 delivered to the Mashable Innovation Series / BMW Guggenheim Labs Berlin appears to suggest that he has an advocate of storytelling as a means of concept development in wayfinding. During the course of the interview, however, it became clear that Niemel채 primarily views storytelling as a method of communicating with users and clients. During the Urbanflow Helsinki project, storytelling was used to distil the outcomes of the research and observations into a concept video. And this approach does appear to have been successful given that the video has been viewed almost 44,000 times on Vimeo since it was posted online in 2011. The interesting way in which this video describes the idea underpinning Urbanflow has clearly reached out to many people. For interactive urban wayfinding prototypes like Urbanflow, storytelling is undoubtedly an effective way of describing its development, how it will operate in an urban environment and the advantages that it will bring to users. The way in which the storytelling is used to demonstrate the product should emphasise


the values of the product and also highlight the context in which it will be used. As Niemelä mainly works in the field of interaction and interface design, Urbanflow is primarily about urban interaction design rather than traditional wayfinding. Interestingly, he views cities as a combination of huge amounts of different types of data which he then uses technology to curate and present which he describes as ‘telling compelling stories’. Despite this, Niemelä appreciates the importance of incorporating the cultural and historical identity of cities into the design of the systems which he develops. Using interactive screens for the purposes of urban wayfinding offers the opportunity to use compelling stories to package interesting and informative data for users. Summary »» Storytelling is communication »» Storytelling does not affect outcome significantly, but is useful for developing a concept which consists of numerous ideas and extensive research, as well as for presenting the appealing points of a product »» Videos are a powerful form of media which capture a story and convey it to many people »» Urban wayfinding and advertising tell story of a whole place


4 Conclusion The outcome of the two interviews demonstrate how storytelling based approaches to urban wayfinding systems differ amongst those who design them. Whereas Acornley utilises storytelling in many stages of the development process, from research and cartography to final visual development; Niemelä perceives the value of storytelling to be as an effective and compelling means of communicating with clients and users once the project has been completed. Acornley focuses on understanding the features and narrative of an environment which can then be translated into visual outcomes while Niemelä’s preference is to use the storytelling approach to build a narrative around the product itself which can then be put into a format such as a short video. Despite the clear disparities in the way that Acornley and Niemelä view the role that storytelling approaches can play in developing wayfinding systems, they seem to share the opinion that storytelling can be particularly effective at integrating and synthesising various elements into a single idea. In the initial stages of developing a wayfinding system, for example, both interviewees feel that the storytelling approach can be an effective means of integrating aspects including the needs of both users’ and clients as well as information about the surrounding environment. Designing an urban wayfinding system is a complicated task that encompasses a wide range of disciplines from city planning to information design, the storytelling approach helps to galvanise these disparate areas and channel them into a single concept. Furthermore, both Acornley and Niemelä emphasise the importance of understanding the cultural and historical features of a city when designing an urban wayfinding system to ensure to ensure that it captures and projects that city’s distinct identity. In the age of globalisation, the fundamental requirements of any urban wayfinding system include engendering a sense of place and offering a unique experience to users. Furthermore, urban wayfinding has the capacity to accurately convey the narrative of a city through visual design and bring to the fore the distinct features which give that city an image and identity that is like


nowhere else. By providing visitors with fond memories of exploring a city, a well-designed, effective wayfinding system will ultimately encourage visitors to return. The advent of real-time data has also dramatically expanded the possibilities of wayfinding particularly in the realm of information relating to transportation as highlighted by the Urbanflow project. This has the potential to change the face of these systems providing benefits to local authorities, residents and tourists. As regards the interviewees that were chosen for this dissertation, the task of finding designers who advocate user-centred approaches and the inclusion of cultural aspects in their wayfinding models was challenging as many prefer to focus on the technical aspects of their projects. Acornley suggests that this may be as a result of an undue emphasis on design theory and wayfinding technique. Placing pedestrian experience should be at the heart of creating any wayfinding system. Although the restricted number of sample projects available limits this study to some extent, it does provide a strong starting point to expand on many of the issues discussed. Since storytelling is an ambiguous concept that can be interpreted in a variety of ways, how and at what stage storytelling can be connected to the process of designing urban wayfinding systems should be given further consideration. Developing a better understanding of the processes followed by designers may be one way of achieving this.



Interviews Participants quoted in the dissertation: Acornley, Ben. Interview by Shiho Asada. Recording,

20 August 2015. London.

Niemel채, Sami. Interview by Shiho Asada. Email, 28 August 2015.


Bibliography Applied Information Group. 2007. Yellow Book: A Prototype

Wayfinding System for London. London: Mayor of London.

Applied Wayfinding. 2015. ‘Applied Wayfinding.’ http:// Barthes, Roland. 1977. Image, Music, Text. Translated by Stephen

Heath. New York: Hill and Wang.

Bays, Jonathan, and Laura Callanan. 2012. ‘Emerging Trends in

Urban Informatics.’ New York: McKinsey & Company.

Chatman, Seymour Benjamin. 1978. Story and Discourse: Narrative

Structure in Fiction and Film. Ithaca: Cornell University

Press. Childs, Mark C. 2008. ‘Storytelling and Urban Design.’ Journal of Urbanism: International Research

on Placemaking and Urban Sustainability 1 (2): 173–86.

doi:10.1080/17549170802221526. Cullen, Gordon. 1961. Townscape. New York: Reinhold Pub. Corp. Davis, Melissa. 2009. The Fundamentals of Branding. Switzerland:

AVA Publishing

de Waal, Martijn. 2014. The City as Interface: How Digital Media Are

Changing the City. Translated by Vivien Reid. Rotterdam:

nai010 publishers.

Duncan, James, and Nancy Duncan. 1988. ‘(Re)reading the Landscape.’ Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

6 (2): 117–26.

Eagleton, Terry. 1983. Literary Theory: An Introduction.

Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.


European Commission. 1990. Green Papaer on the Urban Environment. Brussels: EC. Fendley, Tim. 2015. ‘What next for Legible Cities?’ Eg Magazine 12. Finnegan, Ruth H. 1988. Literacy and Orality: Studies in the

Technology of Communication. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Goldberger, Paul. 2007. ‘Disconnected Urbanism.’ Metropolis Magazine. February. December-1969/Disconnected-Urbanism/. Hensel, Jason. 2010. ‘Once Upon a Time.’ Meeting Professionals International. February. Magazine/Archive/US/February2010/OnceUponATime. Johnstone, Barbara. 1990. Stories, Community, and Place

Narratives from Middle America. Bloomington: Indiana

University Press.

Krzysztofiak, Jan. 2011. ‘Wayfinding Systems in Poland’. Reading:

University of Reading.

Lawrence, David. 2000. A Logo for London: The London Transport

Bar and Circle. Middlesex: Capital Transport Publishing.

Lynch, Kevin. 1960. The Image of the City. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. Moggridge, Bill. 2008. ‘Prototyping Services with Storytelling.’

presented at the Danish CIID conference Service Design

Symposium., May 14.

Moldenhauer, Judith A. 2003. ‘Storytelling and the Personalization

of Information: A Way to Teach User-Based Information

Design.’ Information Design Journal 11 (2): 230–42. Mollerup, Per. 2013. Wayshowing>wayfinding: Basic & Interactive.


Amsterdam: BIS Publishers.

Montgomery, John. 1998. ‘Making a City: Urbanity, Vitality

and Urban Design.’ Journal of Urban Design 3 (1): 93–116.

doi:10.1080/13574809808724418. Niemelä, Sami. 2011. ‘Building Urbanflow Helsinki.’ Nordkapp.

September 12.

urbanflow-helsinki/. Niemelä, Sami. 2012. ‘Stories, Behaviour and Purpose.’ presented at

the Mashable Innovation Series / BMW Guggenheim Labs

Berlin, July.

stories-behaviour-and-purpose/. Nordkapp. 2011 ‘Urbanflow Helsinki.’ Norman, Donald A. 2013. The Design of Everyday Things. The

revised and expanded edition. Cambridge, Mass.:

MIT Press.

Potteiger, Matthew, and Jamie Purinton. 1998. Landscape

Narratives: Design Practices for Telling Stories. New York:

John Willey & Sons, Inc.

Poulin, Richard. 2012. Graphic Design + Architecture, a 20th

Century History: A Guide to Type, Image, Symbol, and

Visual Storytelling in the Modern World. Beverly, MA:

Rockport Publishers.

Prince, Gerald. 1987. A Dictionary of Narratology. Lincoln:

University of Nebraska Press.

Radovic, Darko. 2008. ‘The World City Hypothesis Revisited:

Export and Import of Urbanity Is a Dangerous Business.’ In

World Cities and Urban Form Fragmented, Polycentric,

Sustainable?, edited by Mike Jenks, Daniel Kozak,

and Pattaranan Takkanon. Abingdon, Oxford: Routledge.


Simón, Richard, and Ben Acornley. 2013. ‘Walk London, New

York and Auckland.’ presented at the Auckland

Conversations, Auckland, July 2. http://conversations.

and-auckland. The Master Board. ‘Defining the Touchpoint.’ Master Service Design, 8 December 2013. http://www.servicedesignmaster. com/defining-the-touchpoint.html. Viña, Sandra, and Tuuli Mattelmäki. 2010. ‘Spicing up Public

Journeys – Storytelling as a Design Strategy.’ Helsinki: Aalto

University. Watson, Georgia Butina, and Ian Bentley. 2007. Identity by Design.


Amsterdam: Elsevier.