David Gibson, wayfinding expert and author of The Wayfinding Handbook: Information Design for Public Spaces, spoke to our user experience class a few weeks ago. After his presentation on how he and his team design wayfinding experiences, we had an interesting discussion around GPS navigations systems. A classmate told a story of how his friend, new to NY, a year later still didn’t know where anything in the city was. He used Google Navigation to get anywhere. His face stuck on his phone, he spent all his journeys, long or short, watching his blue location arrow advance and made sure it followed the glowing digital path laid out for him.

The awesome thing about GPS navigation systems is that you’ll never get lost. There are even algorithms for travelling the shortest route, the cheapest route, or the route with less traffic. But the thing that sucks about GPS Navigation is also that you’ll never get lost. Following bullet pointed, step-by-step directions takes away from the opportunity to discover things on your own.

Learning Through Mistakes

As humans, we learn from making mistakes and from making the wrong turn, literally and metaphorically. If instructions for solving a problem are just laid for us in bullet points, we won’t remember as much than when we  have to build logical and emotional connections ourselves.

…and Having Fun While Doing It

There’s a theory of fun in game design that I’m finding to be supported more and more in my own observations. Raph Koster, in his book “A Theory of Fun” concludes that fun equals opportunities to learn.  An activity is deemed fun when it’s not too easy that you get bored, it’s not too hard that you get frustrated, and that the opportunities to learn are well paced.

In my experience, sometimes getting lost is much more fun, then getting to my destination.

The Simple Direction Mobile App

The app I’m building is a navigation system for mobile devices simply letting you know if you’re going in the right direction, leaving opportunities for finding your own way through discovery and even getting lost. It’s the only wayfinding app that finally values the journey over the destination.

I wanted to strip down a navigation system to a core idea: to let the user know what direction they should going to get to their target destination. It’s a sort of customized compass that points in the direction you need.

The idea is that you could be walking, biking, discovering the space around you. And when your ready, you can check the app and make sure you’re on course. The app doesn’t care whether you follow the arrow or not. It’s just a reference and it’s there whenever you choose to look at it.

How it works

The HTML5 app prompts you to either enter a new destination or save your current location as place you’d like to return to. As you move about, you current location and bearing (heading) is calculated in relation to the destination. The latitude and longitude coordinates of your target destination are saved in local storage of the browser, so you can close the app and come back it whenever, even days later, and it will give you a reference to that location. You can change the destination at any time.

I’m using Google’s geocoder for translating the latitude and longitude coordinates to an address and vice versa.

How it doesn’t work (yet)

I’ve been able to get current location, save a destination location, and calculate the distance between the two in kilometers and in feet, get the direction you are heading in relation to North. However, the main part of the app is still  in progress: pointing the arrow to the destination location. I also want to calculate the distance in terms of a time estimate based on how fast you are currently moving.

More on this come. You can follow the code on github.