Lost & found: city wayfinding

Many of my favourite cities have appalling wayfinding. Signs, maps and helpful centre layouts are few and far between, and it makes a real impact on your experience of a place.

c. Martin Deutsch

Even Vienna, that almost-too-well designed city, has a real lack of signs to help newcomers and tourists to get around. For all it’s charm, Paris isn’t much good either.

And while I enjoy wandering around new places as much as the next traveller, knowing exactly where to go when you need it most, is very useful. Good wayfinding means you don’t need to walk around with your head in a huge map, advertising other-ness like a fluorescent beacon.

It means you can check that you’re going in the right direction, and haven’t simply read the map the wrong way around, or thought you were on one road only to find it’s entirely wrong. (Did I mention I’m working on my navigation?)

It’s not about size or complexity. I’ve been lost in Nazca before (population 27,000), but found Manhattan a lot more manageable. Even though the US grid system is theoretically easier than higgledy-piggledy streets, I’ve never found American directions particularly useful. It really depends on the way you’re used to taking in information; “Head east and make a left – you’ll see it at 2nd and Main” is pretty incomprehensible, to me at least.

So where does wayfinding well?

Pedestrian Wayfinding Sign London

London, obviously. You can’t walk more than a few minutes in the centre without seeing another conveniently located public map, complete with points of reference and walking estimates to other areas.

Philadelphia was easy to get around.

I’m willing to bet that Copenhagen/ Amsterdam are good contenders, even though I’ve never been.

What’s the best wayfinding you’ve ever seen? Where were you?

If you’re interested in wayfinding, and what makes better cities, this was a good read on the subject.