Indoor and Outdoor Wayfinding

PROJECT: Chucalissa’s Outdoor Visitor’s Guide and Museum Rack Card

RESPONSIBILITIES: Design, develop and implement printed materials

During and following my graduate studies in anthropology and museum studies, I was fortunate enough to work at The C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa, owned and operated by the University of Memphis. Chucalissa is located on the grounds of a prehistoric earthwork complex in Southwest Memphis, Tennessee. The Museum’s context provided me with opportunities to integrate anthropological concepts with the practice of architecture. The following was originally written for the Museum’s blog Chucalissa e-Anumpoli.

INDOOR AND OUTDOOR WAYFINDING

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, and cause confusion or a sense of disappointment. Adhering to good wayfinding principles can also enhance a visitor’s experience.

HOW IS CHUCALISSA USING WAYFINDING? 

Chucalissa’s outdoor half-mile nature trail has been a great resource for experimentation. During the course of my time at Chucalissa, we relocated and reoriented the trail signs on more than one occasion, cut a new trail with gentler grade changes, and constructed a shade structure and writing desk with AmeriCorps team members. These changes resulted in the creation of a new comprehensive outdoor guide and map, which included updated text with specifics on trees in the arboretum and medicinal plant sanctuary. The trail continues to evolve.

Chucalissa has also offered semi-annual plant walks that highlight outdoor components of the Museum’s site. The tour, most recently led by green intern Carrie Havrilla, is 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.

Volunteers and staff constantly make enhancements to the gardens on site, which include the three sisters garden, Westwood community garden, and butterfly garden. Discussions on site explore options to make the gardens more engaging, and to urge the visitor to take one more step in order to explore all of the outdoor components. 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? Museum staff want to provide educational opportunities, moments for reflection, and a chance for the visitors to personalize their experience. At the same time, it is important for the natural environment to remain natural; the space doesn’t need to be overdesigned or appear like an artificial environment. Chucalissa continues to investigate options to enhance the outdoor components of the Museum’s site with visitors to improve the visitor experience, to create a holistic experience of the indoor and outdoor settings.