Storytelling in urban wayfinding

Ben Acornley, partner and Creative Director at Applied Wayfinding, was interviewed by University of Reading PhD student Shiho Asada.

The discussion focused on the role that storytelling played in the development of Legible London, the project that set the gold standard for city wayfinding systems.

Ben was selected to participate in the interview due to his involvement in a number of high-profile projects and his use of a storytelling approach to create intuitive pedestrian wayfinding.

Wayfinding systems should be able to engage users

The ability to tell a story is vital to providing people with a friendly and accessible way of understanding their environment. Ben pointed out that many existing wayfinding projects are based on disseminating information rather than truly engaging with pedestrians. Such systems may be aesthetically pleasing, however this can often be at the expense of intuitiveness and usability.

Applied’s approach differs in that it uses storytelling as part of the design process, in order to create wayfinding systems that are user-focused. At the beginning of each project, Applied undertakes in-depth research to discover the character of a place.  By observing how people move around their environment, taking into account their cultural background, and the type of information they require for navigation, the team are able to create journey narratives. These stories inform and guide the design development, resulting in a system that is tailored to specific user needs and provides the best possible user-experience.

In addition to this, Applied are careful to ensure that information is presented in a simple and consistent manner so that users are able to easily pick up and learn new routes, encouraging them to travel on foot and explore more of their environment.

For Legible London, Applied carried out in-depth research into the needs of pedestrians

In the case of Legible London, Applied’s research identified four main types of people: novice striders, expert striders, novice strollers and expert strollers. Striders want to travel as efficiently as possible using the available methods of transport, whereas strollers prefer to explore the city on foot. Each of these four users had different needs and would use wayfinding tools in a variety of different ways. Legible London was therefore designed to cater to the needs to each of these users, as an intuitive and coherent system. 

The use of storytelling creates  wayfinding systems that are entirely unique in both terms of visual design and user experience. Providing visitors with an immersive and interesting experience of exploring a city will make them more likely to return, and enables pedestrians to navigate a city with confidence.

Click here to read Shiho Asada’s full work on Storytelling in Urban Wayfinding.