The Top 4 Worst (and Easiest) Places to Get Lost
Whether you are a master navigator or somewhat “directionally challenged,” navigation is instinctual. No matter your level of navigational competence, some places – like bustling cities, crowded airports, and remote landscapes – can be disorienting and, in some cases, stress-inducing. Imagine racing through the airport terminal to make a tight connection between flights, or searching for a loved one in an unfamiliar hospital wing. Directional cues are particularly key in these high-stress environments.
So where do these places go wrong?
Backed up security lines, long waits at customs, crowded trams and unmarked baggage claims – it’s easy to relate to the stress of trying to make a flight or a connection at a busy airport. In a place where everyone is in a hurry and obstacles are plentiful, wayfinding and clear signage is key to the user experience. Infamous for its numerous terminals, Miami International Airport (MIA) is among our least favorites. Long lines and unrelenting crowds make it one of the busiest in world, and poor signage and awkward layout make it easy to go MIA (missing in action) at MIA.
As a first time patient or visitor, it can be difficult to find your way through a complicated medical facility. Patients may be in pain and visitors may be upset or distressed; unclear or misleading signs can add anxiety to an already uneasy situation. For examples, obscure medical terms or inconsistent department nomenclature are often confusing. On the flip side, naming hospital wings or departments by donor names with no mention of its medical purpose is also perplexing. Nobody is at a hospital to explore and discover; you are there because you need to be there and have a specific place to be. Signage should support that objective.
Cities are not all created equal, but most have some level of anxiety when it comes to navigating a busy metropolis by car. For example, Chicago is largely built on a grid with newer cityscapes and signage, making it easier to find your way without maps or directions. On the other hand, cities like Boston are a labyrinth of winding, brick-paved roads. Visitors and tourists are lured by its historic beauty and old-world charm, much of which is difficult to enjoy when you’re driving the wrong way down a narrow one-way street. While there’s a wealth of interpretive signage to help you appreciate the city’s long history on-foot, vehicular navigation leaves a lot to be desired without clear signage for tourists.
With millions of visitors each year and a host of inherent hazards, National Parks need to leverage thoughtful wayfinding for those in cars and on foot. Hikers are advised to plan and be prepared in advance for heading out on the trail. Wild animals, rocky terrains, falling trees and even avalanches are risks that good wayfinding can help visitors avoid. While out on the trail with paper maps and minimal phone service, bikers and hikers often rely on trail signs and cues to lead them safely. But at times, trails may be sparse or lacking in signage for several miles, resulting in hikers wandering off-trail and or just feeling uneasy, which gets in the way of enjoying nature and taking in the sights.
Good wayfinding not only orients travelers, it also instills confidence in, what can otherwise be, an over-stimulating and stressful environment. Effective and seamless wayfinding often goes unnoticed but results in a positive experience that is branded in visitors’ memories.