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Edmonton Wayfinding Project: The Art of (Not) Getting Lost

How do you orient yourself in an unfamiliar place — without relying on a car or smart phone? The answer is wayfinding: anything that informs your navigation, such as directional signage and indicators. Relative to other major urban centers, Edmonton lacks any consistent wayfinding design — but that’s beginning to change.

Courtesy Edmonton Wayfinding Project

Courtesy Edmonton Wayfinding Project

When Tim Querengesser moved to Edmonton in March 2013, he noticed it was difficult to navigate the pedway, transit, and pedestrian walkway systems with the existing wayfinding signage. Inspired by citizen-driven wayfinding projects in other cities like Legible London, he started The Edmonton Wayfinding Project (EWP) to advance conversations with the city and engage locals in the discussion about creating better pedestrian wayfinding in Edmonton.

Good wayfinding can help visitors and locals alike navigate and explore the city more easily. Visitors to a city are often car-less, and are inclined to call a cab to take them to their destination because of an apprehension of getting lost. Querengesser says the presence of a detailed wayfinding design would change that: “wayfinding can be used in two ways, in a way that makes it easy to understand how to get from point A to point B, and in an adventure way like, ‘I want to go explore and see what I find’.”

To gather local input on wayfinding, EWP has a feature exhibit through June 2014 at Harcourt House gallery. Their first installation was a chalkboard wall map that people could interact with to create an insider’s perspective of the city. “We think of things in stories and a map is a story, it shows we all think of the city in our own way,” Querengesser explains. “It helps us think of Edmonton as more than just a grid of streets and cars. Our map shows that it’s shops and parks and humans and events… it’s where things happen.”

Querengesser says innovations like Google Maps do not negate the need for good wayfinding: “on Google maps everything looks the same. 104 St. and 106 St. look the same on the map but in real life 104 St. is this pedestrian-heavy, vibrant destination with some of the city’s popular shops and restaurants, and the farmers’ market, and you don’t get that sense from the digital map.” Wayfinding, Tim explains, serves as place-making to create an identity for a location by naming it. For instance, areas like Whyte Ave. and Garneau are popular, well known destinations in the city that encompass several shops, restaurants, and entertainment venues that are local favourites.

In its pilot stage, EWP has built and presented a functional, to-scale prototype, presented a public art installation, had their project accepted for the 2014 International Information Design Conference in London, England, and has designed a consistent set of symbols and labels for use on their directional signage. Now, the City of Edmonton has taken note and begun the first stages of its wayfinding program, Walk Edmonton. Wayfinding signs have been placed around Edmonton’s downtown core and the city is asking users to provide feedback in a survey.

Take the wayfinding challenge and go for a walk! Don’t anticipate getting lost, but rather expect to discover something new. You might just find a new favourite restaurant or unique shop en route to your next destination.

To learn more about The Edmonton Wayfinding Project, visit their installation at Harcourt House, visit edmontonwayfindingproject.com, or visit the City of Edmonton’s Wayfinding Project Page.

 — Breanna Mroczek

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