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Rethinking wayfinding: examining why people get lost

Hospitals, museums and airports all have one thing in common: a massive network of signage to help you navigate, so why do people still get lost? This question is at the core of Colette Jeffrey’s PhD as she reflects on 20 years of experience designing more than 50 signage systems for a variety of public spaces.

colette jefrey primary

Understanding human experience to improve design

Through her research and industry experience, Colette found that building user behaviour is not always understood, but should be at the heart of every navigation system. She investigated methods used by the information design industry and academia to find the most appropriate way to develop new understanding of how people cognitively navigate spaces. From her research, she has developed the MAGPIE Matrix having identified six factors that contribute to people losing their way inside buildings. Her research will inform further exploration of the topic and will be utilised by design practitioners who want to ensure their methodologies are effectively supporting the ways people navigate.

The Waylosing Blame Game

“What I’ve found is that people blame others when they get lost. One of the designers I interviewed blames the architects of the building, the architects blame the sign designers and the navigator is in the centre of the issue often blames them self.”

Colette will showcase some of her work at the upcoming RESFEST on Wednesday 3 July. The cross-disciplinary research event sees PhD students and staff demonstrate their work through presentations, posters and soapboxes. Colette’s soapbox presentation focuses on the waylosing blame game, which investigates our reactions to getting lost and how blame is pinpointed both by users and the industry.

Colette feels events like RESFEST enables researchers to share their work with different disciplines and come away with new perspectives: “It’s important to see perspectives on your research from other people and disciplines. It allows me to open up my research to things I may not have thought about.”

Navigating the PhD

“With my research topic it’s really easy to make analogies with wayfinding and the PhD journey being tricky to navigate but the destination is in sight for me now” Colette reflects on how all the branching paths of her PhD have allowed her to make connections with people and organisations who have supported her research. One such individual is Professor Kate Jeffery, whom Colette now collaborates with as a member of the CogNav group in the Royal Institute of Navigation, where her research PhD findings are anticipated by people with mutual interests.