|dc.description.abstract||Wayfinding is a cognitive activity that is embedded in a complex social and spatial environment. People use their cognitive ability to gather spatial information from their surrounding environment while navigating and finding their way through space. Lynch (1960) argued that there is a relationship between physical perceivable urban elements and urban legibility, and that a strong legible city would help form a strong mental image of the city. In turn, a very imageable city would facilitate urban orientation and wayfinding performance. However, in addition to spatial information other external information like navigational aids and social environment could assist navigators to reach their desired destinations easier. With the ubiquity of “wayshowing” tools such as paper maps, digital maps, smart phone navigators, and local signage, pedestrians are able to locate themselves in an unfamiliar environment and find their desired destinations. Each of these tools provides specific spatial information in particular ways, with a range of limitations in their use. The way visitors to a new city wayfind in the digital era and their social and spatial interaction with their surrounding environment has been given less research attention than might be expected. In addition, physical urban elements are not the only characteristics that shape urban form. Spatial configuration of urban layout and land use are other influential factors that influence people’s route choice behaviour.
This study aims to explore: a) the effects of different wayfinding tools, such as paper maps, GPS and non-mapping on an individual’s spatial cognition; b) the effects of urban form and navigational aids on people’s wayfinding performance; c) the effects of urban form and navigational tools on navigators’ social and spatial interaction with space; and, d) how people make sense of an unfamiliar urban environment and find their ways within it while using different types of navigational aids.
38 participants who had never visited Brisbane, Australia, were recruited and placed in one of the three groups, given different wayfinding tools, and asked to find seven pre-determined tourist destinations. A wide set of qualitative and quantitative methods were used including GPS tracking, think-aloud recordings, sketch mapping, other cognitive tests and post-test interviews, combined with built environment analysis using space syntax.
The results showed clear differences in the cognitive tests across the three groups of participants who navigated using different wayfinding tools (GPS, maps, paper maps, signage only). The GPS group neither were the best nor the worst compared with the two other groups. However, this is not seemingly because they were looking more at their devices and not looking around, as think-aloud utterances showed no significant difference in mentions of landmarks between the groups. But passively following the suggested route shown by GPS reduced their reliance on the environmental information to wayfindMultivariate regression models revealed showed that digital navigation is fundamentally altering first-time visitors’ use of the city and affecting our natural movement and urban experience. In addition, the analysis of social interaction of navigators with space revealed that GPS navigators are becoming “anti-social”. The analysis of the think-aloud utterances by three groups of participants showed clear differences in wayfinding performance, in terms of strategies and using spatial information, across three groups of participants who navigated using different wayfinding tools.
There is a modest methodological contribution of the study is in using the think-aloud methodology along with GPS tracking and cognitive mapping, space syntax techniques, and post-test interview in combination, to observe and analyze human wayfinding behavior.
The outcomes of the thesis could be used to improve the effectiveness of the navigational aids and legibility of urban environments. Designers should consider routes that will likely be suggested by GPS navigation in how they design, manage and operate street and pathway networks. Designers will need to experiment on the best methods to discourage digital navigators from taking less desirable routes, for instance encouraging them onto street segments with greater commercial and recreational activity.||