I was driving around in a parking garage and as usual, I fretted that once parked, I would never be able to find my car again.
At a conference last December, I felt really stupid because I couldn’t seem to find my way around the property. It took me five minutes of doubling back before I finally found the registration desk.
Sometimes, I just want to scream and say, “Don’t you guys ever think about your customers? Did you think to test of any this stuff?”
Whether you design parking garages, plan hotel spaces, design print mailings or build websites, I believe the same wayfinding principles apply.
The Power of 7. All the research shows that when presented with options, most people can’t process more than 7 pieces of data. When designing websites, for example, we try to limit navigation options so people don’t get lost.
Multiple Ways to Wayfind. I was in a parking garage in Alexandria today and was happy to note that the garage used numbers, good signage AND color coding to help me figure out where I actually parked, which was B1, yellow. One of my favorite garages in Bethesda has 4 doors to the garage from the elevator lobbies. Each door has a symbol (train, sailboat, etc.) The last time I parked there, it was easy to remember level B4, train door because I have a 4-year old who like trains. :-)
Make Your Groupings and Sorting Recognizable. When I go to a department store, I like it when I can find all the jeans in one place. I don’t want to have to go to the designer section, the urban chic section, the hip mom section, yada, yada. If it makes sense to group your content or objects multiple ways, allow for navigating different ways. One client has a print directory of members that you can navigate by chapter, type of work and company name. Online, you can sort by all these fields and more. Nice. Remember that an alpha sort is not always the best way to organize information.
Legibility Matters. I appreciate websites with large navigation and fonts. I love print brochures and web pages that are easy on the eyes because the font is larger, there are lots of sub-heads, and images tell some of the story. I like road signs that aren’t tiny or obscured by shrubbery.
Test With Real Users. Give customers a chance to tell you about your product and you’ll get valuable information. I sometimes walk around a building and think, “Really? Did you ask anyone if they could find anything?” Give your users real tasks, ask them to perform the tasks and give you feedback on what worked, what didn’t work and what wasn’t clear. You’d be amazed at what you learn.
Okay, so enough ranting. I’m an Information Architect at heart and I wish more people thought about information architecture and user-centered design when designing… well, anything.