Wayfinding collector

I am willing to bet that anyone who has worked seriously in planning or designing wayfinding will sooner or later fall into the habit of taking pictures of great or terrible signs and maps. I freely admit that amongst the family pictures and landscapes of my vacation photographs are a suspiciously large number of directional signs, bus stops, maps and wayfinding ephemera. 

It is not just the endless demands of presentations and case study references that drive this collecting of examples but the endless variation in style, form, successes and more often than not, failures to communicate where you are, which way you are facing and what your options are that fascinates me. What my growing library suggests is that the seemingly simple task of navigating our cities is just as much hindered as helped by attempts to give information. 

While there are examples of utterly terrible clutter, inaccuracy and carelessness, more often than not some of the smaller details are the ones that get to me now. I cannot claim absolute authority on anything of course, especially as I am not a trained graphic designer, but some ideas have seeped into my head so solidly that when I see different direction arrows all ranged to one side of a sign, or more than five destinations stacked one on the other, I sigh inwardly.

Maps are infinitely more complex to get right than directions and so examples able to stand next to the British Ordnance Survey are hard to find. I have a bookshelf stuffed with maps collected from transit systems, tourism agencies and assorted retailers from around the world, few offer the 'glance or study' opportunities of skilled cartography . Of course, one of the reasons for this is our love affair with driving. While the Ordnance Survey was, as the name suggests, prepared for mostly unmotorized military logistics, the major growth in maps in North America at least, came about as a response to our enormous road building projects.

The needs of the driver are in many ways much simpler than those on foot or horse, gradients and landmarks become obsolete as references, tracks and other paths not accessible to the automobile disappear from relevance and the map becomes a series of wider or narrower tracks on a featureless plain between indistinct settlements and attractions. Re-building our understanding of the walkability of our environments could be greatly enhanced by better maps (IMHO) - they are expensive but so, so worth the effort.


A map fresco from the Vatican. The scale may be fanciful, but you bet the cartographer understood what it was like to walk

A map fresco from the Vatican. The scale may be fanciful, but you bet the cartographer understood what it was like to walk