A continuation of last week’s blog post, Out with the Old, In with the Older.
A brief history of wayfinding
Kevin Lynch coined the term “wayfinding” in his 1960 book, The Image of the City. Lynch recognized that one’s ability to navigate a city is closely related to how spatially oriented the person is within that city. He quantified this as a city’s “imagability”; that is, its likelihood of evoking a strong image in the observer, and therefore enhancing orientation.
Architect and environmental psychologist Romedi Passini further developed the concept of wayfinding in the 1970s and 80s, defining the term simply as “spatial problem solving.”
Information seeking as wayfinding
Wayfinding has much in common with how we know people to interact with information. In particular, Marcia Bates’s berrypicking model of information seeking portrays a process where, to paraphrase Peter Morville, what you find along the way changes what you seek. Likewise, Peter Pirolli and Stuart Card’s information foraging theory compares information seeking to rummaging for food in the forest, where users follow information scent as they sniff their way onwards. In both cases, information seeking is presented in terms of spatial problem solving.
The metaphor we use to understand the web is a big deal. George Lakoff and Mark Johnson convey the importance of conceptual metaphors in their book Metaphors We Live By:
“Our concepts structure what we perceive, how we get around in the world, and how we relate to other people. Our conceptual system thus plays a central role in defining our everyday realities. If we are right in suggesting that our conceptual system is largely metaphorical, then the way we think, what we experience, and what we do every day is very much a matter of metaphor.”
All change please
If we are to build modern information environments that are coherent — which are “imageable” and facilitate orientation — then we should embrace information wayfinding as a new spatial metaphor for the web.