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THE EFFICIENCY OF INFORMATION IN WAYFINDING SYSTEM ZHAO Rui School of Media & Design, Shanghai Jiao Tong University

The thesis is based on the attributes of wayfinding information, combined with the theories and research findings of cognitive psychology, trying to figure out a more effective way on conveying information to a particular audience. Wayfinding system is a tool which helps people to know and be familiar with specific environment. In other words, its main purpose is to present information precisely, integrate those information on a united interface, and then deliver them to audiences. The discuss will involved aspects such as information demanding, information searching, selective attention of information, information’s anticipation, memories of information, etc. People are always expecting that the wayfinding system would offer useful information as much as possible, so that they can find their way much easier. However, the information of wayfinding is complicated and enormous. They could be names, directions, images, words or assortments. So the key is to find a balance point between completeness and extract, emphasis and hint. To find how to create an effective wayfinding system, a designer has to know how people process information and remember environment model. There is a common way to get to know the environment: demand of information emerges first, and then people expect to reach the destination by reading wayfinding signage or reality of environment. The demand is various and change a lot during the whole process, and triggers different searching modes, that is to say wayfinding system could not only lead people to the destination but also help them to decide where the destination is. People pay attention on selective information, although they are able to classify and sift information, they still expect to see a sequence and logicality amid wayfinding signage so that they will not spend too much time on reading. Wayfinding system has to repeat and emphasize information properly because people have limited short-term memory and perception. Every signal signage and interface composes an entire wayfinding system which could both present overview and details of specific environment. A very crucial way to show information effectively is to keep gradations, in other words, to create an interface that has clear structure. Short memory plays a very important role on recognizing environment information. So because of an inevitable memory vanishing, wayfinding interface could only emphasis finite information. To use linguistic or iconic information or both is hard to determine. And they have to use on suitable occasion and focus on different people, such as children and olds. Even people have already built a cognitive map for a specific environment, wayfinding system still has crucial function because of people’s fallible long-term memory. Key words: Wayfinding, information efficiency, cognitive psychology, communication, audience.

© ZHAO Rui


Jun 2012

CATALOGUE: Information Demand __________ Roaming and focused requirements Searching mode and requirements renew

Visual-layer Communication __________ Span of perception and selectively perceiving Sensitivity of informaiton

Process of Memory and Display of Information __________ Repeated information Short-term memory Long-term memory and retrieval

Cognitive Pattern and Communication __________ Information island Dispersed information



Jun 2012

Information Demand __________

Roaming and focused requirements The interaction between wayfinding system and the audience always begins with information requirements, and follows with searching. Before the final decision was made, the requirements keep changing, specially under frustrating or confusing. Roaming requirements usually emerge among the environments such as tourist attractions, parks and other entertaining areas. People don’t have specific targets or signal target, they don’t arrange the sequence of those targets neither, therefore the requirements from them are disrupt and disorder. In other words, in this occasion, a visitor don’t need to be told how to reach spot A directly, but rather to be known what’s around spot A and how many other spots are nearby, he would love to explore more paths on the map and decide which one to pick himself. Focused requirements, conversely, usually appear around a transfer station, public access, or just on an information island. For instance, when a visitor is trying to figure out a best way, he will need all possible paths between spot A and B. Though he may pass a lot of spots during his journey, all his requirements will be focused on spot B. The information matters to him has a “theme”, or let’s say, is focused on a specific target and those potential information related with that target. Information that fits in the theme could be recognized and remembered, however, others will be filtered or ignored. You will find the difference is not just on the rage of the information if you try to compare those two requiring modes, but more importantly, is on the way they integrate the information. It’s obviously unnecessary to provide information about a new senior center for a young couple carrying their kids in a park----the reason is not because they would never need that information now or in the future, it’s that they will not intend to combine that information with the environment, nor will they integrate it with the information they require initiatively. The requirements are various and unstable. An information designer doesn’t need to guess what users want to know, because that’s the job users themselves will figure out. However, it’s definitely the designer’s job to reduce the time that the users or audience spend on their researching and judging. It’s an effective interface which shows proper information that satisfies audience, not an interface that could read their mind and tell them what to think. Searching Mode and Requirements renew Once we know that audience will have two types of

requirement, we could guess that they will have two modes on searching too. Before getting to know the next step, there are two searching modes: 1) Precisely Searching----searching for the definite target and wishing to get the answer quickly and conveniently. These occasions usually include: people enter into an environment trying to find spot A or room B; when arriving at specific place, certain signage would be needed to make visitor being sure of their location. The key information under this mode may be directions, names, numbers, or some concrete requirements such as toilet, emergency, services, etc. 2) Out-of-focus Searching----with no targets, or not able to figure out how to start searching. In general, requirements keep changing and could hardly be concrete when visitors are under touring or at the beginning of knowing an environment. They have no target or they just need/be able to describe the environment they intend to go. A precise route leads to spot A is totally different from a description like “quiet and without crowd” place. Under out-of-focus searching mode, people will easily change their minds as long as they find something better, and also it’s also easy for them to think that path A is better than path B because either of them could be a good direction during their tour since there is no goal to finish in the journey. Imagine that the visitor using the wayfinding system is just like a user who is using a search engine on the internet: will he choose to input some key words or try to find some existed tags? Key-words searching usually indicates that the user is clear about what he wants, however, tagchoosing searching is a way to narrow the field. These two types of searching are equal to the two searching here in the wayfinding system: search directly with knowing the target clearly, or keep narrowing the range until find the final target. So, prediction of the search mode helps designer work on showing what contents and how to show.

Visual-layer Communication __________

Span of Perception and selectively perceiving Some early researches showed that the span of perception among normal people could only be 4~5 characters. Even the after experiments reported that the situation was better actually, it’s still difficult for people to express the information which is kept in their minds, specially orally. And people always are missing information which is not impressive no matter if it is crucial, in other words, the remembered information may be more complete however the recalled information will be broken and neglected somehow. Since any 3-D environment is complicated and full of various information, it’s essential to realize the span of © ZHAO Rui


Jun 2012

perception plays a part on audience’s cognitive behavior, and that’s also why we need visual-layer, to help us accept more information within our span of perception. When visiting an unfamiliar environment, noisy crowds, ad boards, architectures, landscape, and signage produce chaos which obstruct visitors’ judgment on wayfinding and overwhelm communication of crucial information. Visuallayer design means to put some of the information “in front of ” some others in order to attract more attention and be perceive more quickly, in other words, to create a sequence of reading information for audience (pic.01). This sequence leads visitors to classify spontaneously first, and then deal the categorical information under their own interest and demand. Pubic environments like airports, supermarkets normally choose separable color system as standard of classifying, a brilliant example is Dusseldorf international airport (Germany), its wayfinding system owns two levels of grades: primary information such as boarding gate is based on olivegreen and also settled at higher position in order to avoid be shielded by crowds; minor information relatively such as rest area or toilet is based on gray and most of it is covered on the ground so that it is easy to catch as long as you are looking for it; these two grades separate from each other and both function effectively.

pic.01 Visual-layer concept Other approaches to have visual-layer include alphabet/ numbers which indicate sequence, the location of interfaces, etc. As to be clear with the concept of layer, it’s not the “layer in space” (pic.02) but “layer in logic”. The expressing way of information on each layer can be differentiated by colors or sizes, but separating them is only the first step, more importantly, is to embed a logic sequence on reading. Many interfaces or signages have visual layers but still work badly because lacking of consistency and sense of organization. The goal of visual-layer communication is to indicate a kind of logical sequence that help in judgment and classifying. People feel comprehensible with the forms and the hints even if they don’t be conscious of it.

Entire thesis:

© ZHAO Rui


Jun 2012

the efficiency of information in wayfinding system  

Graduate thesis by ZHAO Rui, 2012, School of Media & Design, SJTU

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