Nowadays, pulling the latest ‘iphone’ or android device out of your pocket, for those that aren’t already living out someone else’s life through social media makes for the easiest way from A to B across any city or unfamiliar urban sprawl. I am not knocking this, and with the exception of not subscribing to social media, I’m a huge fan of google maps (others are apparently available) alongside having the ability to translate has saved me in many an occasion abroad.
Now what happens when your battery dies!! Long before the phone sign posts, way finders and maps provide the only clues in these unfamiliar territories. Having been involved with two fairly large city centre developments I have perhaps picked up on this more than I would have if not involved however it was down to a visit home with international visitors that the significance of this shone through.
Belfast is booming, well in the vibrant sense, café culture and a number one tourist destination are out-shining a troubled past and in more recent years near crippling recession. As I find myself wandering the tourist trail on a sunny Sunday morning, naturally with phone out and two enthusiastic Canadian cousins. As non-frequent visitor to my native homeland, the speed of development and additions make for new bridges, plazas and green spaces, even a green way (green infrastructure along disused rail line, some 12miles) have appeared.
Thankfully, for me and the thousands of annual visitors and of course non phone users the signage and wayfinding infrastructure is very visible and well thought. Around the centre of Belfast and Titanic Quarter, a nod to the industrial past is not only dominating but very well portrayed and interpreted to visitor and native alike. Signage is colour coordinated and consistent throughout, way finders pick up on the dominant buildings, something that the user also will when not viewing the pavement they tread through their phone ultimately if taken at a leisurely pace form a walking tour and experience as well as the essential A to B route.
It presents an opportunity that if you get lost to ask, something that has become a lost art today and well the Northern Irish love to chat. The feeling of looking for the pub on the corner (The Crown if you must know) and turning right instead of turn right in 50yds…thanks siri!
Before you think I’m a complete technophobe, technology does have its place and ever more so in modern life. I have seen technology integrated within signage and way finders. The current trends of linking through QR Codes and Bluetooth to our mobile devices are great, they maximise what is possible to know and understand of a particular area during particular time. This is the future and it isn’t going away.
Then Perhaps it comes as no surprise it was the interaction, simplicity and nod to the past at one of Belfast’s newest landscapes that captivated me then. A recorded message that you had to wind the handle to listen, no fancy gizmos or logging on to a network, simple clockwork winding a handle with a smile to go.
A user installed in a landscape will for the best part get perhaps 70-80% from it, the context, vernacular and routes it posses. This will certainly increase over time, definitely a lifetime however for us visitors, the good old sign and map is certainly not dead yet.
LLA have worked on numerous wayfinding projects, please contact Alan Pritchard for further information.