User Centric Design and Inclusivity – designing for every situation.

Anyone who works on wayfinding projects in the transportation sector will know that it is important to design a system that is centred around the passenger and is inclusive, but can you ever really satisfy 100% of passengers 100% of the time?

Wayfinding is user focused and a good system understands the needs of everyone who will move through the space. On a recent project I have been working quite closely with a team of Human Factors specialists who are heavily focused on human interactions. In a recent discussion we began to debate just how far you need to go to satisfy the needs of everyone in every possible scenario.

Resources such as the Sign Design Guide, DfT’s Inclusive Mobility and other accessibility guides are great at providing guidance when designing wayfinding systems, but they are obviously very focused on people and often centred around the physical design elements of the system. When it comes to deciding on a clear strategy for an airport, rail station, city or any environment it is ultimately down to the designer to make a call based on their knowledge and experience.

My argument with my colleagues was that if you try to think of every possible scenario the building would be packed with information that 99.9% of the passengers would not need 99.9% of the time. Meeting the needs of 100% of the passengers for 100% of the time creates a situation where there is too much information on display, which subsequently serves only to confuse the majority of passengers.

Is information overload just as confusing as a lack of information?

During a workshop, we were trying to document different user profiles (both departing and arriving) to determine decision points and information needs throughout the building:

  • Passengers of reduced mobility – wheelchairs, the elderly, pushchairs, heavy luggage, partially sighted, hearing impaired etc.
  • Irregular user – tourists
  • Regular users – commuters, locals.

We also drew up a list of key operational scenarios:

  • Peak/off peak periods
  • Emergency situations
  • Disruptions to the normal services offered in the building
  • Closure of parts of the building.

But what about all the other ‘freak’ events and ‘what if’ scenarios.

What if someone with a heavy bag decides to take the escalator, but when they realise there is an additional level to descend, they decide to take the lift halfway through their journey. This scenario isn’t really planned for in the pedestrian routing as it is assumed that passengers will either use the lift throughout the journey or not at all, but in a building with lots of level changes this scenario may not be uncommon!

Do these scenarios require additional signage or could lighting, colour or supergraphics be used cleverly to help highlight facilities and aid intuitive wayfinding?

Seattle Library
Use of lighting and colour at Seattle Library, Image Credit: Esther Harlow

Seattle Library
Use of supergraphics at Seattle Library Car Park, Image Credit: Nikki Hempen De Ramirez

Market St Station
Use of colour at Market St Station, Image Credit: Ryan Behner

Some members of the project team were keen to provide exact instructions in this type of scenario so that the route to the lifts was extremely clear, but I believe that sometimes we have to give the passengers a little credit.

Do passengers really need everything written for them in black and white or can we trust them to use a little common sense?

There are the scenarios that have an even smaller chance of happening. For example where routes through the building need to be dramatically changed or if staff areas need to be used temporarily. Is additional fixed signage really the answer to a temporary issue? I suggested that there were other alternatives such as:

  • Temporary notices/posters
  • Public announcements
  • Staff supervision/guidance
  • Temporary physical barriers (retractable belt barriers etc)

What I was trying to communicate to the rest of the team was that although traditional signage has it’s place in wayfinding systems, it is not the only way to encourage human behaviours. Wayfinding isn’t just signage, it is a process which can include the use of all kinds of sensory cues. Sometimes we have to rely on people being able to use there intuition. We can influence movement within an environment with much more than just physical instructions and in scenarios that have a small chance of actually occuring, it is maybe better to provide helpful cues (colour, lighting, graphics, announcements, staff guidance) rather than create a confusing and cluttered environment. We must recognise the needs of all types of passengers in different scenarios, but we must consider the effects of providing additional information on the overall wayfinding system and produce design solutions that are fit for purpose.

Feel free to let me know your thoughts on this topic…

This entry was posted in Inclusive Design, User Centric Design, Wayfinding and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to User Centric Design and Inclusivity – designing for every situation.

  1. David Mearns says:

    Hi, a very good read, i have total appreciation for what you do here. If i can help in any future projects please let me know.

    My blog is



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