Of all the steps a city can take to make itself more pedestrian-friendly, developing a integral system of signage is both a quick and easy improvement that makes a world of difference--as shown by initiatives like Legible London, New York's WalkNYC, or Rio on Foot, in Río de Janeiro.
In keeping with this trend is "Leer Madrid," or "Reading Madrid," a combined effort by Applied Wayfinding and local Spanish firms Paisaje Transversal (urban strategy), Avanti Avanti Studio (Design for All), Urban Networks, and Paralelo 39 (urban designers and architects), under the guidance of Dimas García. The project's aim is to improve legibility, safety, and autonomy within the city by taking a "design for all" approach, which we will analyze in-depth in this article.
So how does an effective wayfinding system work? Easy to use wayfinding systems allow residents and visitors alike to move with more independence and encourages them to do so on foot, improving, among many things, a city's air quality and the physical health of the people living in and visiting it. On top of helping people get to where they're going, the wayfinding system would also answer any questions that people might have while navigating and exploring a city "with such an enormous and diverse population of visitors, tourist, and residents, each one perceiving the city in a different way. Their characteristics vary, as do their desires and needs." The result benefits ranging from greater social integration to an overall better city experience.
In this sense, the first phases of the project include on-site visits by the team to get a feel for the local situation, with assessors to evaluate the legibility and visibility of the current signage.
32% of visitors and 23% of residents had gotten lost during the week before the survey. Almost half of users depend on some type of device to navigate. Visitors tend to stay in the city center rather than to explore the outer neighborhoods and none of those surveyed bothered using the current signage to find their way around.
How can this project succeed?-- Only by being accessible to people of all abilities: not through an accumulation of accessibility resources but through a fundamental and integral approach to design and planning.
The Diversity Cube, created by Avanti Avanti in collaboration with the Design for All Foundation, represents a realist approach to the diverse conditions that determine one's individual ability to navigate the city, namely language, functional capacity, and socio-economic profile, all of which determine the motive, rhythm, and manner in which we move within an urban setting.
Taking this into consideration, The Diversity Cube simulates multiple situations for each individual, situations that the system should be able to respond to both before and during a trip through the city.
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One of the principal conclusions of the simulation is that the system should be flexible with the ability to adapt to any situation it may encounter as well as makeup for the lack of resources and individual capacity of the user (red color)--such as the limitations of legibility (blue). The wayfinding system (yellow) should also naturally adapt to as many situations as possible, all under diverse and constantly changing conditions.
The lower the capacity and legibility, the greater the amount of support that the system will provide.
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Wayfinding systems are not based solely on a series of easy-to-learn codes that simplify instructions or descriptions, they also give thorough information where and when it is needed:
Destination points (ways of planning a trip, found in stations); Points of orientation (where people can make decisions and see the progress of their trip); Push Points (where they can get simple directions on how to continue their trip); and Points of interpretation (that give contextual information on places).
Here, all the elements come together: the street systems, personal electronic devices, printed maps, integration with subway and bus systems, guides, online resources, and interpretive information signs.
So, how do we get a system that we can trust?
It should become a permanent fixture in the streets and in the minds of its users. People have to want to use it (and to trust it.) Therefore, the system should prove itself with its precision.
Source: "Plan director Leer Madrid. Sistema de señalización y orientación peatonal universal".