Wayfinding Definitions, Terms and Terminology

Cardinal Directions – are directions which involve the main compass routes i.e. North, East, South and West. Giving or receiving directions which for example tell you to head south and to turn north at the main intersection, would be using cardinal directions.

Changeable Message Sign (CMS) – is a sign which is normally electronic and which can change to show different messages. A good example is an electronic parking sign which shows the number of available parking spaces to motorist. These signs can also be referred to as Dynamic Message Signs (DMS).

Cognitive Map – is a mental mind map or we could say visual representation of which we use to store information on spatial connections and distances and geographical relationships between locations.
Example: When we visit a new holiday resort, the visual representation in our minds of the place gets clearer each day and more developed.

Context Awareness Service – A mobile service which helps in understanding the context i.e. the environment of your location and situation and which can aid navigation and the overall experience (more on context awareness).

Dwell Time – refers to the amount of time we spend in the same place. In terms of wayfinding, increasing the amount of possible dwell time for a passenger, such as in an airport, means that airport managers can make the airport more commercially viable through increased retail spending. Move passengers efficiently such that they have time to spend in the parts of the airport you want them to.

Dead Reckoning – involves understanding your present position by analysing the distance you are from your original point and amount of time spent and your original position.

Einstellung Effect – Although not a term specific to wayfinding, this term I have included because I think it can be very interesting within this subject area. The Einstellung Effect refers to how we sometimes use tried and tested methods for doing something, even when a simplier technique can be used.

Environmental Differentiation – The use of colours and other stimuli to create differentiation between environmental factors.
Example: The cruise ship painted each floor a different colour to make it possible for travellers to recognize their floor via colour coding.

Environmental Visibility – The ability to see the environment and the wayfinding signage. Is the background lighting effective, the space used efficiently for example.

Field of View (FOV) – This refers to having a clear and visible view of the line or field of sight, i..e you can see the path ahead to be travelled or navigated.

Flight Information Displays (FIDs) – Display boards you see in airports which detail the arrivals and departures information.

Geo-spatial Information Systems (GIS) – rather than a positioning system is software which manipulates data as part of a framework.

Global Positioning System (GPS) – is quite well known and can locate specific locations and positions on earth, using satellites. Car SatNavs for example use this system.

Gyroscope – A navigational device which words on an angular basis, which can rotate and detect motion through a three angled axis spinning device.

Heuristic wayfinding – is an expression we use here on in our audits and evaluations to explain a key concept in the way in which many of us wayfind and navigate in the real world. ‘Heuristic wayfinding’ refers to a practical and common-sense real-world way of finding solutions to routes, deciding on directions and paths we will take. We do not in reality have time to evaluate every possible route, every option and every outcome, so we wayfind by using an educated guess and make decisions based on these guesstimates.

Kinesthetic Learning (aka Tactile Learning – this involves learning by experiencing the practical experience and by learning by experience.

Kinetics – is the study of movement and motion. Although not specific to wayfinding, this term does sometimes get used in relation to the corporeal aspects of the field.

Landmark based learning – learning a route through following man-made and/or natural landmarks including hilltops, tall buildings, monuments and other sites visible such as from a survey point of view.

Location Awareness – is when a product such as a SatNav can work out its own location. In the case of a SatNav, this geographical location is then used to guide you to your desired end location.

Location Based Services (LBS) – is a computerised system for using the location of a user to affect a certain program. If you imagine Facebook, they can send you targeted ads according to your location. LBS though is also becoming increasingly useful in wayfinding and navigation.

Level of Service (LOS) – Not specific to wayfinding but pertinent to this field of study. It can be a very valuable exercise to undertake LOS surveys frequently in tourism spaces such as an airport, to evaluate and to get a good understanding of the efficiency of your wayfinding system.

MUFIDS – This terms refers to Multiple User Flight Information Display Systems, an example being the electronic departures or arrivals broad at an airport.

Markov Decision Process (MDP) – Although not a term specific to wayfinding or navigation, this process is sometimes used in analysing route decisions. The main concept behind the Markov process is that decisions are often a combination of the traveller’s decision making and partly based on other, random factors. MDP provides a mathematical equation and paradigm for analysing routes which involve the random and personal decisions.

Personal Navigation System (PNS) – This type of system is the natural progression from GPS technology, with a personalised service using wireless and mobile technologies.

Point of Interest (POI) – Another similar term and alternative to the word landmark. The term differs from landmarks though in its use in sectors such as the medical industry where it can refer to a particular area of interest set against a background, one example being when an optometrist tests your eyes.

Reverse Perspective – In terms of wayfinding, this expression was used by Erik Cohen to express the way in which we can draw cognitive maps of a place, and we inadvertently  draw the places and pieces we know in an exaggerated size, whilst drawing the others places in reduced size.

Route angularity effect – Research has found that routes with many angles are perceived to be longer than they actually are because of the angles i.e. the turn around a number of corners.

Route based learning – See definition below.

Route Knowledge and Strategy – Navigating somewhere based on quite precise directions such as turn left and take a 2nd right and so on, as opposed to following landmarks and taking a more general path.

Shoreline – Refers to a clear outline along or through a part or all of a building.

Slow Tourism – This relatively new term and concept, and which originates from the idea of slow food, is general about not rushing to travel somewhere and taking the time to enjoy the journey. Engaging with local communities is also included in some definitions of slow tourism. For many, cruise holidays typify the meaning of slow tourism in that the journey and slowly getting somewhere and appreciating the journey itself and taking time to enjoy the open seas, rather than rushing to fly somewhere, is a great example. Cruise travel on the other hand completely contradicts what some people see as slow tourism, because some advocates of slow tourism emphasise the avoidance of mass tourism. As you can see, the term is somewhat complex in meaning and is a term which is debatable according to one’s ontological views.

Steering Behavior – This is a form of wayfinding and navigation which is based on the intentional attempt to draw people into or towards a location. An example being a vendor in an airport finding ways to draw people into their shop, by finding ways to affect the routes.

Survey Directions – Using an overall view of the area and often using what can be seen using an aerial view.

Tactile Ground Surface Indicators (TGSI) – TGSI’s are invaluable for helping those with disabilities such as those with visual sight problems to navigate. Through the design of features such as paving stones which have a tactile surface such as rough edges as you are about to each a step or a kerb give the user a sign with to read the environment. TGSIs are on other words a way we can give those with sight problems, environmental clues as they wayfind. You may yourself have experienced tactile surfaces on motorways whereby the road becomes harder on your wheels and makes a noticeable noise, if you stray onto the edge inside the inside lane.

Trajectory – The path or route than an object takes.

Visibility Index – Is a way of measuring the lines of sight in a quantitative way, for the planning and evaluating wayfinding design.

Way-Signing – Is NOT a commonly used term but it is one I have heard used now and again so it worth perhaps mentioning. Some people who are not familiar with wayfinding see this subject area as being about directional signage. Wayfinding of course is a much more complex subject area and includes for example, the use of space and design. If a town for example uses space well and has a landmark which can be seen from most points, then the need for signage is decreased and natural paths are much easier to follow. It is important to get away from thinking of wayfinding as just about directional signage in order to fully understand this subject areas.