Some of the world’s best wayfinding systems are built around a GIS database. Should yours be?

T-Kartor wayfinding systems are based on a data-driven, core GIS system. This is ideal to manage large, complex systems such as Legible London, New York WalkNYC or Toronto TO360, and also for smaller, semi-automated systems such as Birmingham (UK) Interconnect West Midlands.

This post, inspired by common misconceptions, looks at the distinction between a city wayfinding basemap (stored in GIS) and a municipal GIS datastore.

Why use a GIS?

While a city wayfinding basemap can exist as a single file from which individual ‘map crops’ are cut, there are massive benefits to storing a wayfinding basemap in a GIS:

  • By saving the basemap in a database there is no limit to its size, now or in the future. T-Kartor took over Birmingham city’s ‘Interconnect’ wayfinding basemap when it was intended to expand the system. At the time, the 3km² basemap file was already proving slow to edit in Adobe Illustrator. Now in GIS, the size of the basemap is 25 km² and it is prepared to keep growing to encorporate the whole region.
  • Creating different versions of the same basemap, with specific designs for e.g. public transport, tourist information, shopping and sporting events would require four separate files, keeping each of them in sync as the basemap is updated. This becomes very complex over time and would be difficult to maintain consistently without mistakes. The GIS stores only one version of each object and styles it on output to suit the product type. This separation of content and styles ensures accuracy and consistency of the basemap across all map information products.
  • Maps that are generated by a GIS are very easy to track by saving map frames within the system. This makes it possible to track their creation date, customer ID, order, operator and the content of each map at the time it was produced. With access to this data, our wayfinding systems include powerful asset management tools.
  • T-Kartor’s city wayfinding GIS platform has been developed and enhanced over many years. Our tools for automating map outputs enable lower costs and higher volumes of wayfinding products than would be possible from a file-based system.
  • A GIS-based system is ideal for creating digital wayfinding services as the basemap is already in a digital environment. The basemap can be served in a variety of ways such as a streamed tile service or interactive objects.

Not a city municipal GIS

Storing the city wayfinding basemap in a GIS, however, does not mean it resembles a city municipal geographic data repository. Here are some key differences:



Municipal datastore GIS

A topographic dataset has no set scale. Map texts are generated dynamically during the map output and placed automatically. Graphic quality is usually not a priority as these maps are mainly for analysis or information purposes.


City wayfinding basemap

In order to create and maintain a high level of graphic design we create a basemap with a set scale. This allows graphic edit decisions (improving the appearance of the map) to be saved in the GIS and be reproduced on outputs. A wayfinding system will be created at several set scales to suit a range of map products.




Municipal datastore GIS

Map styles do not need to be fixed for a municipal datastore. A stylesheet will be applied for creating a map visualisation, applying a font and text size, but these can be set according to intended usage (as long as texts are readable).


City wayfinding basemap

A city wayfinding system has a very high design integrity, with a clear, legible hierarchy of information a key factor of its success. Styles that are applied during map output are subject to a fixed set of rules with text positions carefully edited and stored. Specific styles are applied on output depending on which product template is applied, and configured design rules exist within each template.



Municipal datastore GIS

A high degree of accuracy is required for many possible uses, such as building and land boundaries for cadastral mapping, or pavement widths for analysis and town planning.


City wayfinding basemap

Topographical accuracy can look very untidy and disorganised on a wayfinding map, where the intention is clarity and legibility. This leads us to create our own version of the topography by generalising, smoothing corners, evening pavement widths etc. Data processing in this way makes the basemap specialised and fit-for-purpose, but less geographically accurate, so it is maintained separately from city planning databases.

Subset of data

Municipal datastore GIS

A municipal datastore is a repository for management, administation and maintenance of all useful data. It can be used to solve a variety of requirements and as such, completeness and currency are the main objectives.

City wayfinding basemap

The graphic depiction of information relevant for wayfinding requires only a small subset of the city’s data, and this subset often needs to be improved or complemented, for example improving the quality of footpath information essential to pedestrian wayfinding.

Output control

Municipal datastore GIS

A city data repository in GIS has very few requirements on output (Graphic) quality. This data is used mainly for analysis and reporting. Output tools in cartographic software are generally limited in this respect.

City wayfinding basemap

Highly stylised maps are output from the GIS in a format suitable for finishing in Adobe Illustrator. The challenge, for which T-Kartor has developed proprietary tools, is to automate as much of the finished map as possible, leaving few manual edits such as adding rotated 3D building illlustrations.

Mutual benefits

The city wayfinding database ia stored separately from the city GIS and should be viewed as a specialised Graphic Production Database. However, at T-Kartor we work closely with the IT/GIS data departments of our city customers. The city municipal datastore provides a wealth of topographic data with which to start developing a wayfinding database. In return, the wayfinding basemap also provides useful data. It is regularly updated using field surveys, created with input from local-knowledge stakeholders and often contains extra data layers (such as accessibility data or infrastructure inventories) not previously available to the city.




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