Part 1: Objectives

The questions for this unit:

  • What is wayfinding?
  • How does wayfinding help us navigate familiar and unfamiliar environments?
  • What are some of the design principles used to people navigate through new environments?
  • Why are maps so important?
  • How do maps help us make sense of and influence how we understand the world?
  • What are some of the biases inherent in maps?

Part 1: To-Do List

  • Blog post
  • Texts and Readings
  • Optional live session
  • Discussion Board post

Part 1: Overview

Visualizations and the associated design principles are vital to helping people navigate complex environments. We will look at wayfinding and map-making/cartography, two systems that deal with illustrating spacial relationships.

Wayfinding can be thought of as spacial problem solving. It involves knowing where you are in an environment (often a building or complex), knowing where your desired location is, knowing how to get there from your present location, and knowing when you have arrived at your destination. Wayfaring systems are used to help people find the right offices, streets, bus stops, bathrooms, departure gates, where their car was parked, etc.

Maps are visualizations of spacial relationships. They are so common that we hardly notice them as visual objects. We have become dependent on maps in books, on walls, and on our cellphones to help us navigate the world physically and mentally.

But maps are created by someone with a specific viewpoint for a specific purpose. And whether you realize it or not, whether those purposes and viewpoints are hidden or explicit, maps are propaganda tools that can influence our world view.

This unit will only give us a glimpse of these two rich and complex fields.

Part 1: Blog

This is your usual blog post: it should be on the previous week’s topic of infographics.

Part 1: Texts & Readings on Wayfinding

  1. Lotfi Merabet, Blindness is just another way of seeing, TEDx Talk (15:15)
    • Dr. Merabet is an optometrist-scientist. His work reminds us of what we have been learning throughout the course: we see and visually interpret the world with our brains.
Citation: [TEDx Talks] (2014, Oct. 28) “Blindness is just another way of seeing | Lotfi Merabet | TEDxCambridge” [Video File]. Retrieved from
  1. What is Wayfinding?
    • Here’s another definition of wayfinding: a “information systems that guide people through a physical environment and enhance their understanding and experience of the space.”
  2. Design Principles for Wayfinding
    • This website clearly sets out eight important principles for designing wayfinding systems.

Part 1: Texts & Readings on Maps

  1. Writing with Maps
    • This handout from Duke University is a useful overview of maps, their purposes, and problems.
  2. Mathigon, “Surface Area of a Sphere
    • Why our maps are all distorted. Try it out and see how parts of the world change under different map projections versus how they actually are on the surface of our world.
  3. Anthony Robinson, excerpt from his talk on “Interpreting Maps and Identifying Misinformation” (4:03)
    • This excerpt connects in many ways with last week’s unit on infographics. Dr. Anthony Robinson, director of Online Geospatial Education Programs at Penn State University explains how viral maps shared on social media can be used portray misinformation. He specifically discusses the role that thematic maps can be manipulated and mislead consumers.

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