Hosted by Jonn Elledge and Barbara Speed, each fortnightly episode of Skylines discusses the topic of cities, from urbanisation to politics.
In an episode titled ‘You Are Here’, Tim and Jonn talk about how Applied works to create maps for complex environments and the challenges that arise when attempting to build wayfinding systems completely from scratch. To illustrate this, Tim describes Applied’s approach to devising the critically acclaimed Legible London wayfinding system.
Tim explained that Legible London stemmed from the realisation that whilst walking accounted for 55% of journeys for Londoners, yet there was no wayfinding tools readily available. Instead, just under half of people were using the tube map to navigate, which was not built to effectively guide pedestrians.
Applied’s first step was to try and understand London’s legibility. This is defined by how easy, or difficult a place is to understand. A difficult city is one that is difficult to navigate, to remember and is hard to position yourself in. New York is an interesting example of legibility. In most of Manhattan, the grid pattern and numbered streets are easy to understand once you have familiarised yourself. However other areas of the city have an older, ‘London’ style street pattern, with lots of little roads that confuse people. Another legibility issue discovered in New York occurs when travellers exit subway stations. The block structure of the streets can make it hard for people to position themselves and know which way is north.
Tim explained how one of the biggest challenges of Legible London was inconsistencies in naming. London is a city that has evolved over the centuries and has a diverse population. As a result it can be difficult to get an agreement on what to call a particular area or building.
To resolve this, Applied undertook vast amounts of user research, to try and gain a consensus on nomenclature. From this, Applied came up with a three tier system of ‘districts’, ‘villages’ and ‘neighbourhoods’ as a way of effectively cataloging the vast urban sprawl. This strategy has provided London with a definitive list of 767 villages and 3,345 neighbourhoods, and is used to inform Legible London maps. By clearly defining spaces in this way, the city becomes more legible and users have a greater sense of place, enabling them to feel more confident to explore their surroundings.
Looking forward, the Legible London system is continuing to evolve. Applied is working to create a digital, zoomable version of the map that allows users to get an up-to-the-minute picture of the city. This has been prototyped as Living Soho and Living Regent Street, both of which are for iPad, iPhone and online. Applied is also involved in some exciting projects, devising wayfinding systems for the new cities being built in the Gulf.
Guests featured alongside Tim included Stewart Mader, the founder of the Subway NYNJ campaign, which aims to get the commuter PATH train line from New Jersey to Manhattan clearly illustrated on the map of the New York subway. For Stewart, this omission goes beyond wayfinding problems. With the New York transit system receiving over 58 million visitors annually, the map has become a cultural asset that frames how people perceive the city.
To hear the podcast in full or subscribe to Skylines, please click here.