Indoor and Outdoor Wayfinding

by Allison Hennie

Wayfinding is a term that means different things to different people, and can change depending on the context. As an architect and anthropologist, I think about wayfinding as spatial problem solving. Wayfinding is a manner of assessing spatial cues that affect one’s ability to navigate through an environment. Common architectural features used in wayfinding include: lighting, sight lines and signage.

Think about a trip to a grocery store where you’ve never shopped before. Do you reference the signs hanging in the aisles, or can you navigate the space based on previous experiences at other groceries? If you park in a parking garage, how do you remember where you parked your vehicle? These may not be the best examples, but chances are you’re now going to start critically thinking about how you find your way.

At a museum, visitors rely on these visual cues to make decisions about where to go, how to get from their present location to their destination. When wayfinding is poorly executed, it can deter a visitor from deciding their course of action, cause confusion or a sense of disappointment. Adhering to good wayfinding principles can also enhance a visitor’s experience.

How is Chucalissa using wayfinding?

Picture 4Our outdoor nature trail has been a great resource for experimentation. Over the course of the semester we have relocated and reoriented the trail signs on more than one occasion. As a result, we have created a few temporary versions of the trail map, while we continue to develop a comprehensive outdoor guide and map. We have updated the text that provides a general overview of the natural environment, and specifics on trees in the arboretum and medicinal plant sanctuary.

We recently hosted a plant walk that highlighted the medicinal plants on site. The tour, led by Glinda Watts, was an opportunity for individuals to learn how the plants themselves can act as wayfinding tools by understanding where they grow and the symbiotic relationships that are formed.

Picture 5

Staff and community volunteers working on our garden!

We are also making moves to redo our community garden. Our discussions have explored options to make the garden more engaging. For example, changing the orientation of the garden and dividing the space into smaller gardens are visual wayfinding cues to encourage the visitors to have a more intimate experience by walking through the garden instead of around it.

Wayfinding is an ongoing process.

How much wayfinding is too much? We want to provide educational opportunities, moments for reflection, and a chance for the visitors to personalize their experience. At the same time, we also want the natural environment to remain natural; we don’t want to overdesign the space or create an artificial environment.

We continue to investigate options to enhance the outdoor components of Chucalissa to improve the visitor experience, by creating a holistic experience of the indoor and outdoor settings. This summer I’m hoping we also consider the connection between our half-mile nature trail and TO Fuller’s six-mile discovery loop.

About C.H. Nash Museum

The mission of the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa, a division of the University of Memphis, is to protect and interpret the Chucalissa archaeological site’s cultural and natural environments, and to provide the University Community and the Public with exceptional educational, participatory, and research opportunities on the landscape’s past and present Native American and traditional cultures.
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One Response to Indoor and Outdoor Wayfinding

  1. Pingback: Anthropologists in Practice: An Interview with Freelance Architect Allison Hennie | Anthropologizing

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