We are developing a wayfinding application and system for Central Park in Burnaby. This application will give users a tool to easily navigate and understand the space, and the physical signage within the wayfinding system will help provide more character to the space, making it more memorable and allowing the user to make more and better connections and relationships with the space.
At the start of this project, we developed a team contract, visible here.
Central Park is a large park in Burnaby, located beside Patterson Skytrain Station. The park is composed of a forested area with many trails, as well as many recreational facilities. Central Park is a great place for jogging, cycling or sightseeing, and offers facilities for picnicking, golfing, swimming, baseball, horseshoes and lawn bowling. There are also a few landmarks, such as the Swangard Stadium, Korean War Memorial and Lohn Perennial Garden. The park currently lacks a well organized wayfinding system, as their existing wayfinding materials don't employ a very clear hierarchy of information. Also, physical signage isn't as prevalent as it should be in some important locations.
We identified two main types of users of our park. The first user type primarily uses the facilities in the park; they come to the park to use the tennis courts, playgrounds, picnic areas, etc. They tend not to be as interested in the trails connecting those places, and instead focus on the shortest route to get to their desired location. Our other main user type were those who used the trails of the park primarily. These users walk, jog and cycle on the trails, either as a form of exercise or just to explore the natural side of the park. They aren't interesting as much in specific locations and shortest routes as they are in planning trips around the trails of a particular length.
We developed 3 personas to represent these two main user groups, plus an edge case. Bob Patterson is an athelete who uses the park to train, and is interested in being able to plot detailed routes on the park's trails. Billy Zhao is a father of two energetic kids who he takes to the park to burn off steam, as well as to use the natural aspects of the park to educate his kids. He wants to know where things like playgrounds, picnic areas and bathrooms are located. Jenny Nguyen-Udon is our edge case, a tourist in the area who doesn't have much time to see the most interesting parts of the park. She wants the shortest distances possible to views and events in the park.
With these requirements and scenarios in mind, we began to develop the design for the application and signage. We first looked at the features we wanted the app to have that would allow people to more easily navigate the space and how we could implement those. We decided that we wanted to give people the ability to change overlays on the map to explore more detailed information that was relevant to what they wanted to do in the park. We also wanted to allow people to be able to find the shortest possible route to certain facilities, so we decided on having a "Quick Find" feature. The user is also able to sort locations in the park by the type of facility that they are, or what kind of activities they facilitate. When travelling to a certain location, users can either choose to take the shortest route from their current location or add that location to a queue of locations, creating a longer route through the park. We did this to allow users to easily plan out what they would do and where they would go in the park, as well as to be able to create routes of certain lengths for walking, jogging or cycling.
We developed our first low fidelity prototype using Flash. This prototype just has the basic interface of the application working, but allows you to see how the app might be used, and the flows that the user might take through the app.
After finishing the first prototype in Flash, we went back and did some user testing using paper screens of our application. This offered us some flexibility to test some features that we had planned, but weren't available in the application yet. The users we tested offered us some valuable insight into many of our application's features, as well as how to make the interface more intuitive and easier to use.
One of the users we tested helped us develop more intuitive UI elements, such as changing the icon to open our menu (changing from a "settings" like icon to a "home" icon, as well as the icon for the route planner (adding a pencil to show that this is a tool where the user creates a route). The also helped us develop how specific features would work, such as restricting the route planning to just being able to select locations and intersections, rather than any point on the trails.
For our signage, we tried to improve on the existing signage in the park. The existing signage had no clear theme or hierarchy. A clear and consistent theme helps to give the space an identity, making it more memorable. Clear hierarchy, especially with regards to warning or regulatory signage, makes it easier for the user to safely navigate the space and avoid user error. In our signage system, we used a theme consistent with our app, tried to establish an information hierarchy, used icons and grouped the information on our signs to further improve hierarchy.
The entrance sign is the first sign most users will see in our park. It introduces users to the park itself, as well as some of the rules and regulations of the park. The top section of the entrance sign matches the theme of the rest of the signage, but is different enough to distinguish itself and show its different, elevated place in the hierarchy. While we could have grouped rules together into one chunk, each rule is separated, as they all describe different situations.
Related information is grouped. In this case, we see the division between facility information and trail information. We have also chosen to show only a few locations or trails on the signs. Only the closest and most relevant locations or trails are show to avoid bombarding the user with potentially useless information. The warning signage has the greatest priority, and it placed at the top of the sign.
Warning and Regulatory Signs
In these signs you can clearly see the information hierarchy we decided on - warning signing is the most important, and is placed at the top. Regulatory information is less important, so it goes beneath the warnings. Warnings are also denoted with a single icon, while each regulation has its own icon to provide additional information about the rules described.
Destination Identification Sign
The destination signage lets the user know they've arrived at their location. It also uses an icon that is used in the application and the navigational signage up to that point, which helps associate the location with that icon and the identity we give it. Seeing this icon repeated helps improve memorability compared to just using the location's name.
Our application showcases several features which we believe greatly improve wayfinding in the park.
The Layers feature allow the user to change information density displayed. They can turn things like location icons and labels on or off. While it is not functional in our current application, we also wanted to give users the ability to change the number of trails displayed by hiding minor trails with this feature. It allows users to get more information on what they want, and reduce the amount of information that they aren’t interested in, acting as a very basic visualization tool.
The Main Menu gives user access to the Activities Panel, Points of Interest Panel, Events Panel and the About Us. Its location makes it easy to use with a thumb if holding the table with both hands.
The Activities Panel allows the user to sort locations in the park by the activities they can perform there. This feature helps if the user is wondering "Where can I do [x]?". This gives the user a sense of space via those activities - the user thinks, "I can do this there!" which contributes to creating connections and memories with the space.
Points of Interest Panel
With the Facilities Panel, users can sort locations by facility type, such as general, recreational, sightseeing and transportation. Then they are presented with a list of spaces of that type, which they can then select. This panel helps if the user is looking for a particular place or facility and is wondering "Where is x?" It gives sense of space based on the buildings and landmarks within the space. While the connections made using this tool might be less personal, as they don’t relate as directly to the user’s experiences as activities do, it is very visual, as it is based on things within the space that the user can see and take note of.
While this feature doesn't work current in our application, it would allow the user to see upcoming events in the park, and where those events are located.
The Quick Find tool allows the user to quickly and easily locate the closest of certain facilites, mostly facilities that you might typically need to access quickly, such as washrooms and parking. It automatically adds the closest of those facilities to their destinations, and plots them the shortest path to that location. It makes it very easy and fast to navigate the space when looking for the closest possible places.
The Route Planner tool is possibly our most interesting feature. It allows the user to create their own, personalized path through the space by selecting locations and intersections and building a route. It offers the user the ability to easily plan their experiences for their trip to the park. Also, the process of creating the route has the user thinking about the space, and the experiences they're going to have going through his space. This causes information about the space to be continually brought back into working memory, which increases the memorability of the space overall.
Our wayfinding system helps users navigate Central Park, and also helps them with something even more important - creating memories in and of the space. It does this by offering users more agency to control how they interact with the space and plan their trips, making the user think about and remember the space. Our application, as well as our signage, improves the wayfinding in this park.
We chose to create the final version of our application using FlashDevelop rather than Flash for a variety of reasons. Because of the size of our park, it would be very difficult to, for example, show the shortest distance between any two locations in Flash. It was much easier for us to determine and represent these things programmatically; there are just too many possibilities to reasonably show in Flash easily if we were doing them all by hand. It also gave us the ability to actually run our application on a tablet by making use of the FLEX framework, which we thought would both be more interesting and make this project a better portfolio piece.
You can use the source code to run the application on your desktop, or download it onto mobile devices. For this project, we only had time to test it on a Android device (an Eee Pad Transformer Prime, specifically), but it should work on other devices as well. Just follow the instructions in the readme to configure it to work on your machine!
To allow us to easily create the nodes that would make up the map, Charlie developed this Node Editor tool.
The way in which we found the shortest path between two points was based on the A* Algorithm, specifically how it was implemented by Eduardo Gonzalez in his Artificial Intelligence Series.