An effective wayfinding basemap is carefully curated from a mountain of available data to present a map which is clear, legible and fit for purpose. The word curated means to select, organise and present a body of work using expert knowledge. It also perfectly sums up the wayfinding basemap creation process.

Take this animated illustration, two sketches of Shaftesbury Avenue in London’s theatre district. The less-cluttered map on the left represents the quantity of map content utilised by Legible London, following principles crafted from two years of reseach and practical testing (by Applied Wayfinding). The more complicated version on the right shows the amount of information displayed by OpenStreetMap, a free online data source. Here, the greater clarity of the Legible London-inspired map is achieved by thinning out information and organising what remains into a distinct hierarchy. Rather than attempting to include every existing ‘point of interest’, the uncluttered sketch achieves greater legibility in being methodical and selective about what is shown and what is not.

User-centric design

A user-centric approach keeps the end user at the forefront of all design decisions. Although the term is perhaps now straying into the realm of cliché, considering the user’s perspective (sometimes literally) is crucial for the basemap curator when distilling on-map information down to only that which is needed for the completion of a specific task. For example, some people are navigating a city in order to find the quickest route to their destination. Others have more time and would like to discover new and interesting things en route, or wish to search out quiet, scenic or safer paths.

Naturally, the city or transit authority commissioning a wayfinding system also has overarching goals, whether they be to create vibrant public spaces, to ensure access for all, to improve pedestrian safety or similar. These aims may be formalised through planning and strategy documents, or exist less tangibly as desired outcomes. Whatever the case, these needs should also be channelled into the building up of a useful wayfinding basemap.

Another advantage that careful curation brings, versus a one-size fits all approach, is to allow for the history of a city to shine through. The basemap’s colour palette, its iconography, and the typefaces employed can all reflect the personality and story of that particular city.

Content selection and management

So the argument here is that careful selection of content is key. Authorities should take it upon themselves to consult with local stakeholders and knowledge experts, similarly representatives of the citizens who will be benefitting from (and perhaps indirectly funding) their wayfinding system. However, that is just part of the data gathering process. The crucial step in constructing a high quality map for wayfinding takes place at the filtering stage – selecting, reducing, refining, ordering and justifying precisely the content that makes it on to the basemap.

It is worthwhile asking yourself whether a particular source of data can be maintained. Is the supply regular and of high quality? Will it require resource-intensive re-purposing in order to make use of it in a given wayfinding system? And are there specific restrictions to its use (and reuse) that could limit system development in the future?

It makes sound sense to remember the concept of parsimony, one embedded in Legible London since the pre-pilot stages. That is, achieving the right balance of information shown and ‘empty’ space in any particular part of the map. A ‘goldilocks’ approach to content management, if you will. Not too much, not too little, just the right amount. And we’d like to add to that – in the right place, with the right look, for the right result.

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