Another year, another month, another Environmental Psychology (EP) article! In a previous Redstar issue, I wrote about the influence that the physical environment might have on violent behaviour. In this article, I will share more knowledge about way-finding and how it might influence one’s behaviour and emotional state. Going to different places is a part of most people’s everyday life and it is what supports some of our most basic needs: to eat and socialize. In order to do so, one of the key cognitive functions that humans have is the ability to find their way (or way-find) in different environments. This function requires people to have sufficiently accurate and up-to-date information to know where to go.

In this article, I will use THE WAY Brewery (I know, right?! Talk about way-finding while searching for THE WAY!) as an example in order to make my point. Located inside Guoxin Stadium, the venue makes a lot of people extremely confused on how to reach it as it is not directly visible from the street level. The brand founder decided to open the brewery in the chosen location because the surface was large enough to accommodate many customers without any concerns about complaints from neighbours about loud music at night. Regardless, there are not many customers there most of the time believed to be due to its lack of visibility (legibility) and difficulty in locating the venue.

Two big factors that influence way-finding are legibility and familiarity.

So how is legibility understood in EP terms?

Legibility is essentially considered to be a physical and spatial quality of the surroundings in which people find themselves. It is heavily influenced by the level of differentiation of physical elements and their visual aspect. As such, legibility becomes the degree of distinctiveness that enables the viewer to categorize the surroundings and thus, way-find. Legibility, as a measure of spatial quality, has a direct consequence on behaviour, particularly on travelling and ability to reach a destination. For example, in laying out modern Rome, Pope Sixtus was careful to situate a number of obelisks which were designed to help pilgrims orientate themselves in order to make the city more legible.

Some of the elements that influence legibility are:

Visual access from street level or the principle of openness in architecture which says that the more an individual can see in the landscape, colours, size, and illumination, the better one is in way finding.

Spatial characteristics: The more complicated a physical space is perceived by the user, the more difficult it becomes for them to read and understand it, thus to way-find. In order to find their way, people use generic knowledge about building layouts in buildings that they recognize as belonging to a type. For example, within a stadium, people would expect to way-find based on their generic knowledge of a stadium. Nonetheless, a stadium is not a place where people would go often, thus such knowledge might be missing from people’s cognition processes, which would make way-finding more difficult.

 Signage available at key points: In EP, there is research to show that the availability of signage significantly reduces discomfort, anger, and confusion as well as the amount of time spent to complete the way-finding process. In order to help in way-finding, effective signage must not only be available, but also be legible from a distance, clear and simple in design, must have enough but not too much information, and must be placed where the way-finder needs information, usually in intersections or near entrances.

Illumination, or whether the way-finding happens at night or during daytime: Way-finding during day time helps generate a clearer understanding of the space, thus reduce stress caused due to way-finding. At night, given the reduced visibility, it becomes more difficult for users to find their ways, therefore increasing levels of stress, especially for women. 

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So how does way-finding influence affective experiences?

 Understanding the mechanisms of way-finding and their correlation with legibility is very important, as it affects people’s levels of stress, causing mental anxiety that can influence behavior in many ways. In the case of the brewery, it could influence people’s willingness to return, their perception about the quality of the service, the amount of money that they are willing to spend there etc.

Conversely, such environments, apart from generating anxiety, might also increase the time needed to get to one’s destination. The longer a person spends on way-finding, the higher their stress levels are. If they are on their way to attend an event and are conditioned by time, then their mental anxiety might be aggravated by the worry of being late. Even minor episodes of disorientation can generate anxiety, frustration, and tardiness. During automobile travel, these effects may be even worse as they may also have a big contribution to fuel waste, pollution, accidents, and traffic congestion. You never thought of that, did you? 

So what does familiarity have to do with anything?

The levels of stress related to way-finding were found to decrease once the person becomes more familiar with the place. It was found that with an increased number of travels to a place, the person will become more familiar with that place and therefore be able to find their ways better, even if the space is less legible. The condition here is to give people extra reasons to go back in order to allow them to become more familiar with the route and feel more comfortable in way-finding.  

Challenge of the Month

How confident are you in your way-finding skills? I challenge you to go find THE WAY Brewery and test your way-finding abilities! Once you’ve reached the venue, mention “Tianmei’s World” and you get to enjoy 15% off on all menu items. The Brewery have amazingly delicious pizzas and burgers as well as in-house brewed (super fresh) craft beers. How awesome is that?

Write to me about your way-finding experience while trying to find THE WAY at: before March 15th and you can get an additional prize (I will keep it a surprise for now!), along with the opportunity to be featured in one of my future articles for Redstar about way-finding.

Address: THE WAY BREWERY, Yinchuan East Rd 3, Guoxin Stadium, Zone M, Ground Floor (below SoBook)

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