Guide on the Side – The Story of Storyboarding – Part 3: Wayfinding

“To explain wayfinding, we have to ask you a question: Have you ever been disabled by your environment. Or more simply, have you ever found yourself lost in space, either dimensional or cyber? Sure you have!” Paul Arthur (

(Archived September 1, 1997)

Marie Wallace has enjoyed a fulfilling career as a librarian, beginning in 1951 in academia with the University of California and transitioning in 1971 into the private law library world until her 1995 retirement from O’Melveny & Myers. she is the 1997 receipient of the American Association of Law Libraries’ highest honor, the Marian Gould Gallagher Distinguished Service Award. Throughout her professional life, Marie has been a guiding force in the Southern California Association of Law Libraries, Practising Law Institute’s programs for law librarians and Teaching Legal Research in Private Law Libraries (TRIPLL).

Today, Marie has commenced on a new path she terms “Life in Progress,” which enables her to pursue a diversity of interests as a master swimmer, law librarian, trainer, storyboarder and designer of wearable art. She continues to be a dynamic speaker and prolific writer on such topics as private law library management, presentations and training. She is a member of Toastmasters International and is active with the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) and in continuing education for private law librarians. She devotes her “free” time to various non-profit and civic activities. Always open to new ideas, Marie can be reached at: [email protected].

Personal Experiences

When I first started writing about storyboarding in the early 90s, I was concerned about two things. First, the overall image many users had of law libraries was a labyrinth (age old symbol for being lost). Many lawyers told me of going into a law library for the first time and knowing specifically what they needed–perhaps Title 29 of the US Code. In the absence of cues on the library layout, they would do the lawn mower maneuver (up one side of the aisle and down the other) until they “eureka’d.”

Second, too many reference questions started out “Where is…” Originally I thought the solution was better maps, color coded routes like hospitals use, improved signage and more pathfinders, then I discovered wayfinding and realized that maps and signage are only part of the perceptual, cognitive and decision-making and decision-executing processes to find one’s way in a new environment. Functional environments have to be designed with the user in mind. No amount of signage can salvage obscurity in a design. Unfortunately, many libraries were designed with the user at the bottom of the priority list and before today’s technology–when user patterns were very different. Without changes in the wayfinding plan, library spatial communication systems are riddled with confusing messages which often carry over into the digital nodes as well.

The universal contemporary wayfinding problem is public parking structures. Is there anyone among us who has not forgotten where the car was parked? Have you considered why? Or why you never forget when you park on the street? I recently had a new experience in a parking structure, one that made me think of how parking structures resemble information systems. We had gone to MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Art) in Los Angeles on a Saturday to hear the panel discussion “Clicking-In: Hot Links to a Digital Culture” about digital media changing people’s sense of identity and reality. The free parking was in a structure that provides office parking during the week. After the program, we had no problem finding the car because we frequently stopped and looked behind us on the way to the museum. Yet once back in the car, we were unable to find our way out. We followed the “Exit” signs to their ultimate destinations (four of them) and in each case there was an exit–but it was closed! In desperation, we located the only other human being in the huge space, and luckily he was familiar with the structure. On weekends all the regular exits are closed and visitors have to transition to an adjacent building via an obscurely marked route to find the single open exit. The original signage was good but when the use of the facility changed no one thought to update the wayfinding system and it became a disabling environment.

What is wayfinding?

  • An architectural term of art about information finding behaviors
  • First used by American architect Kevin Lynch in The Image of the City, Technology Press, 1960
  • Further articulated by Paul Arthur and Romedi Passini in Wayfinding: People, Signs, and Architecture, McGraw-Hill, 1992
  • Now applied in the architecture of virtual reality.

What is wayfinding about?

  • Spatial problem solving
  • Cognitive mapping
  • Not getting lost
  • How people use spatial and graphic information systems
  • How people know where to go (and where not to go–danger)
  • How people know there is a there there (a destination exits)
  • How to get there
  • How to recognize the destination once it has been reached
  • How to find the way back
  • Architects designing enabling environments
  • Age old themes about way finding often expressed in art and folklore
    • Ariadne and Theseus ( a-riadne.html)
    • Hansel and Gretel
    • Joesph and His Brothers

What are the important wayfinding concepts?

  • Orientation
    • Survey or synoptic knowledge (the big picture)
    • Translating a space into an image
    • Locating one’s self in the habitat (Where I am now)
    • Identifying the possibilities (Where I can get to from here)
    • Learning the layout metaphor
      • Grid
      • Circle
      • Like a T
      • Axis
      • Like Paris
  • Direction
    • Route knowledge (how to get from A to B), big picture not necessary
    • Ways to go
      • Up or down
      • Left or right
      • North, south or other compass points
      • Toward or away from a landmark
      • Maps
      • Directories in building lobbies
      • Range numbers on stacks
      • Database menus and file directories
      • Number and ranking of hits in CALR searches
      • Follow the yellow brick road
      • Click on a hypertext link
  • Identification
    • Verification or recognition knowledge (“this is it”)
      • Cues to know when you have arrived at the destination
      • Validation that you are where you think you are
      • Signals to know when you are lost
      • Prompts to know how to get back
      • Labelling intersections
      • Legal citations
      • Call numbers on books
      • Names and numbers on office doors
      • Highlighting search terms on the screen

Wayfinding principles

  • Establish a sense of place
  • Divide large spaces into distinct small parts
  • Provide frequent directional cues
  • Provide for three types of explorations of the space
    • Without prior knowledge of the space
    • With prior knowledge and looking for a specific target
    • Searching where there is no target (browse)
  • Understand different people have different perspectives of the same place

If wayfinding principles are ignored what undesirable things are likely to happen?

  • Wayfinders feel helpless and turned off
  • Users avoid places where they feel disoriented
  • People get frustrated and stressed
  • Psychological barriers impede reaching the destination
  • Functional inefficiency results
  • Diminished accessibility ensues
  • Unsafe conditions may be created
  • Wastes users time
    According to Wayfinding (above) p. 9
    • “Recent hospital research demonstrated that in a facility of some 800 beds, no less than 8000 hours (four person years) of professional time was lost in redirecting patients and visitors to their destinations. This is exclusive of the time that the professionals themselves lose in trying to find their way about particularly when they are new on the job. Nor does it refer to the hidden costs that result from delayed professional interventions which may critically affect patients.”

The basic architectural design process

  • For the architect or designer, there are two phases:
    • Needs assessment
    • Designing the communication plan
  • Needs assessment
    • Identify the constituent spatial units
      • Inventory users and their information and personal needs
      • Map workflow and userflow
    • Group the spatial units into destination zones
      • Include human needs for contact, privacy, information exchange and sharing
    • Organize and link units and zones
      • Determine circulation patterns and networks
  • Design communication plan of relevant spatial information
    • Define entrances, gates, landmarks, unique functions, and paths
      • Use lighting, shapes, color, cues, scale, groupings and signs
    • Define exits and emergency exits
    • Communicate the circulation system
      • Maps, diagrams, kiosks, flags, colored lines on the floor or walls

The basic procedure for wayfinders to follow

For the user or wayfinder, the procedures is to navigate and explore the cues to find the way and not get lost. There are more non user-friendly environments than user-friendly ones. People who have travelled extensively are well experienced with both and come to wayfinding with a good model: get a map, create a conceptual map, plot main and alternate routes, personalize space as you go, explore a little along the way, and remember the landmarks so you know how to get back.

How does wayfinding fit with storyboarding as described in Storyboarding Part 1 (motion pictures) and Storyboarding Part 2 (displayed thinking)?

  • Part 1 is about storytelling via a sequential series of pictures
    • Hand held artifact
  • Part 2 is about problem solving via concurrent displays forming a single image
    • Wall held artifact
  • Part 3 is about creation of functional environments via spatial cues
    • Structure held artifact
  • The three are inter-related and all
    • Emphasize visual images rather than text
    • Tell a story
    • Involve a journey
    • Clarify transitions
  • Used together the trio form a powerful pyramid of visual communication.

What are some of the applications of wayfinding for legal information?

  • Layout or remodel of libraries, information centers, and professional offices
  • Develop user-friendly digital communities
  • Improve web pages
  • Design corporate Intranet
  • Simplify training and orientation programs
  • Design better human computer interfaces
  • Plan work places for teams
  • Customize information for a specific user group
  • Build wayfinding systems for people with sensory, cognitive, mobility, or literacy limitations
  • Design emergency and disaster plans
  • Smoother switching from one media to another
  • Navigate new information domains and map the terrain
  • Data visualization to orient clients to complex legal or research issues
  • Expand spheres of influence
  • Deliver dynamic presentations
    • Elliott Masie (speaker on using technology for training at 1992 AALL program in San Francisco) describes how he “maps” in Presentations, May 1997, p. 24 so both he and his audience can wayfind.

How whole buildings communicate a sense of place

The Wellington Public Library in New Zealand is an outstanding example of good wayfinding design. The external walls are glass. You can see the layout from the outside, the entrance and the inside. Neon signs flash the subject arrangement. Shelves are only five high and easily scanned. A friendly, humorous attitude is expressed in whimsical clocks, asymmetrical design features, bright colors and amenities, including a coffee shop on the mezzanine overlooking the three floors. In one glance, the user grasps the big picture, the route and the destination. The building invites users in.

In Los Angeles, there is a luxury hotel consisting of five circular towers. Everyone who stays or has gone to a conference there complains about disorientation. The hotel has tried color coding and signage but the absence of distinguishing spatial anchor points remains a problem. Each tower looks the same as the others and leaves the user without building blocks to construct a cognitive map or to form an overall image of the layout. The building does not invite. Eventually, the original owners filed for bankruptcy.

Wayfinding Reading

  • The Discovers: A History of Man’s Search to Know his World and Himself.(Out of Print) by Daniel J. Boorstin, Random House, 1983. Especially sections relating to Ptolemy, the magnetic compass, and the portable clock, Seeing the Invisible and Widening Communities of Knowledge.

To purchase these books, click on the title. (Credit card purchases only)

Web Sites

Posted in: Guide on the Side, Law Library Management, Space Planning, Storyboarding