We welcomed four panellists to Hammerson's King's Cross offices, to point out the ways we can design navigation into spaces.
The paths we pick as we enter a space, be it a shopping centre or library, are influenced by many factors — mood, purpose and, of course, design all play their part. And the temptations of tech are now influencing the ways that designers can augment our physical experiences; at best, smartly using data to personalise and prompt, and at worst clumsily disrupting what we're looking to do.
So getting wayfinding right must be both an art and a science — blending design and creativity with data and deep knowledge of consumer behaviour and psychology. When done properly, the end result can be design and user experience at its absolute best — intiutive, adaptive and even invisible.
To unpack these opportunities, elevate what's great and learn from what's not, we invited a panel to the Hammerson offices in King's Cross — asking those on it to guide us through their own experiences and views.
Chris Girling, Head of Wayfinding at Design by CCD, a human behaviour and design consultancy that specialises in designing wayfinding experiences for large-scale environment, including airports, train stations, museums and universities. With over ten years' experience, some of Chris's project highlights include the University of York, and the London 2012 Olympic Games.
Holly Simpson, Head of Graphics and Communication at Your Studio, which takes an insights-led approach to creating engaging brand experiences across retail, workspace and hospitality for clients around the world — including Topshop, Liberty and Virgin.
Alex Wood, Director of Holmes Wood, a design studio dedicated to creating effective wayfinding and information graphic schemes. Specialising in designing branded environments, notable clients include the V&A, Liverpool Waterfront, Somerset House and several Hammerson shopping centres.
Kathryn Malloch, Group Product Innovation Manager at Hammerson, which owns and manages shopping centres and retail property across the UK, Ireland and France. Among the 58 destinations in its portfolio are the Bullring in Birmingham, Brent Cross in London, and Victoria Gate in Leeds.
Here's what we learnt.
Chris discussed how on any given project – whether working on the London 2012 Olympics, or Luton airport – different types of spectators, passengers or zones need to be identified. For example, he mentioned how working on aviation projects, the first step is to identify the different journeys taken by visitors depending on their relationship to technology. Are they high-tech or low-tech? When and how do we want to push them into the fast, slow, or dwell zones? Marking up space and working out different rates of flow is key to envisaging a live environment.
Similarly with Hammerson, Kathryn mentioned the varying objectives of visitors to stores, from the person willing to browse to those on a quick-buy mission. When it comes to wayfinding, it is about supporting both visitors not just through signage but also a streamlined message that starts before visitors have even entered the store. This includes options that cater for digital users; for example Hammerson have worked to create a simple pared back signage system, with the option to use their Plus app which includes blue dot mapping. This was put into place over a two year digital infrastructure programme, replacing paper maps and on-site digital touchscreens. Creating something physically neutral and timeless was important to their brand identity, but augmenting it through digital options allowed for freedom of choice.
This links to what Holly described as the biggest misconception about wayfinding: that it’s just about signs. Spaces have to be unique and “cut through the visual noise, but also be quite embedded in it”. At YourStudio, Holly approaches work with three fundamental pillars that come together to form the customer experience: audience, brand, and site. Whilst customers will have a plethora of different experiences in a space, it’s important to create a holistic customer journey which doesn’t wholly rely on signs. For example making a space intuitive, with good lighting, a clever arrangement, and good use of colour alleviates the need to ‘add on’ extraneous elements.
Simplicity is key
Following on that wayfinding isn’t just about signs, with Holmes Wood Alex follows the mantra “wherever possible take things things away”. Simplicity and common sense is key to integrating navigation into a building. For example, by moving the welcome desk further away from the entrance and cleverly lighting the central spiral staircase, the Tate Britain experienced 80% less customer service complaints, with people given the chance to interpret the space themselves. This extends to typography work used in signs, which Alex says might work well in 2D graphic design or marketing materials, but can be extremely unclear in a built environment. “Guidelines just need to be guidelines” she emphasises when working to transfer branding visuals to a physical space.
This is part of the psychology of wayfinding which Chris said occurs when people start to build a model of a space in their mind as they enter. All speakers emphasised that humans are “natural born wayfinders”, and often the work has to play on natural instincts. Holly mentioned little things like clear paths and sight-lines that draw people to the back of a store can help visitors to orientate themselves, and “giving space a sense of it’s own place” through emphasising certain landmarks, such as an in-built staircase or light fixture.
Along this line, Kathryn suggested identifying key touch points within a space then stripping everything else back, as often you’re trying to design a scheme that only becomes noticeable if it doesn’t work. With Hammerson’s approach they “let’s the retailers do the theatre”, keeping it holistically simple and emphasising individuality through a building’s materiality rather than ever-changing signage.
A part of simplicity when it comes to Wayfinding also includes keeping navigation visuals classic and timeless, rather than playing to colour trends. Creating something durable is important, with Alex specifying that it’s difficult to provide metrics on the commercial benefits of a wayfinding scheme because it’s not subjective design. Conversely, part of a durable design should be the ability to adapt to the ever changing retail landscape, for example catering to developments in VR technology and the rise omnichannel retail experiences.
For all speakers, research is a huge part of making wayfinding design work. Chris discussed CCD’s approach of using a quarter of a budget on research, which can include anything from visiting spaces, benchmarking from similar environments, sending impartial volunteers to the location, and testing temporary infrastructure or schemes at different stages. In one project for an airport carpark, behavioural research revealed that people driving made an error three or four times per minute. They were able to trace this back to the airlines lack of information given to passengers about which gate or carparks they should be using, and went on to tweak little informational aspects that had a massive effect.
Similarly Alex discussed the three stages in designing a wayfinding scheme: The familiarisation stage, an auditing stage, and design implementation. Within this she mentioned for spaces with existing schemes, the cost of removing previous work is often overlooked in terms of budget. A lot of the time designers also fail to really experience an existing space as it is, or make a note of small things that might effect visitor pathways such as the type of food mostly on offer in the surrounds of a retail park.
Any sort of trialling has huge benefits, Chris saying the ability to put in place an interim system and ask visitors questions, allows you to make changes as a project goes along. Although a controlled environment, modelling can also work; Alex saying that really a space has around a six month transitionary period, then a year before the effect of permanent system changes can be honestly measured.
“You’re not going to be able to predict and get everything right”, Alex said, with all speakers unanimously agreeing that experience has proven it’s worth spending extra money on a temporary scheme, with visitor perspective being central to crafting the best environment.
90 York Way,
London, N1 9GE,
Start:10th October, 2017 at 6:30pm
End:10th October, 2017 at 8:30pm