I am taking a step back this week and looking more into the background of London multiple wayfinding systems to make connections and see, where the current project could be positioned and if there’s a room for more wayfinding. So here are different levels of pedestrian and cycling navigation systems I have currently identified. There are many more, of course, but this gives some idea of what the people on the ground level are faced with.
The time when simple signs here and there were considered job well done is long past and the systems are becoming increasingly more complicated to develop and implement. On the other hand it is also becoming a skill to read these systems effectively and make the connections between different wayfinding systems. Whether we want it or not, it’s likely we use many systems in one day to find our way in the city.
When Legible London by Applied Wayfinding launched in 2007 it was a groundbreaking A to B walking system and attempt to unify all the different signage in London. I think it has been a huge success and I remember what difference it made between mid 2000s when I first started visiting London and on 2010 when I lived there. I’ve also used it every time on my London visits since and it’s one of the best executed systems I know. However, I still find that maps that show streets around you in about 5-20 min radius are sometimes hard to connect. Applied wayfinding itself admits in their research that at the time they conducted it nearly half (44,7%) of people used London Underground map for planning the journey.
TFL transport maps
The TFL transport maps and signage is the most used wayfinding system in the city. These practical and straightforward maps are meant to be understood by anyone (residents and visitors alike). However as London is growing the TFL maps have also become more complicated, trying to include more information that can make the maps less legible. The current tube map is far more information heavy than it used to be a decade ago, but I think it still remains one of the best navigation maps in the city. Journey planner is a handy tool for quick travel planning and now also includes alternative transport, but it can limit the overview of the whole network. I always prefer to have a ‘real’ map as a backup to see where I am actually going.
Walk London Network
The Walk London Network is the network of walking paths in and around London originally created by Ramblers. Mainly intended for leisure walking and hiking these paths aim to take people to more natural areas and pathways. The difference between Legible London and Walk London Network is the intention of the walk – first being a wayfinder in the urban environment and second mainly for leisure walking and hiking. The waymarking on these trails are more hidden depending on the location and you may need an additional map to accompany the walk. Taking these paths require more preparation, including some map reading skills.
Each council such as Hounslow for example has their own wayfinding systems for local interest. Public pathways, riverside walks, placemakers in the town centres and park maps. These are all grown from local initiative and represent an important part of the community. They also give identity for the neighbourhood and can be modern or traditional, even spread across several boroughs. So it’s very possible than by walking around one neighbourhood you come across to quite a few different wayfinding systems, maps and signs along the way.
Site specific signage applies for example to college grounds, entertainment sites and shopping districts. These are often modern and cutting edge signage systems to find specific points of interest on the grounds. Most of the times these systems are site specific and not visually connected to other external systems. For example both Barbican and Wembley Park have developed site specific wayfinding and signage. Also, the Royal Parks have their own mapping and signage system that is applied London wide and across several boroughs.
Central London walking network (Beta)
Urban Good together with London Living Streets are also developing an extensive Central London Walking Network which looks like an interesting project and possibly an alternative to Legible London, taking account to the healthier and greener routes. The Beta version is set to be released in few weeks!
The London cycle network has its own layered wayfinding system I know less about, as I have not cycled as much in London as I have walked (it always seemed too dangerous before). It also has changed significantly due to new cycleways and signs that are implemented right now. So I am yet to explore this further, but according to my local informant Angus there are several systems that are yet to be connected with each other and to nation wide cycle network.
This seems a lot, but London is a very complex city and it’s not surprising it needs multiple levels of signage for transport, walking and cycling. Is there a room for Greenground navigation in this? I think so as it represents a different side of London that is not transport specific and opens up a whole new experience for many people.
Twitter thread with signage, maps and systems shared by Londoners. Thank you everyone who contributed to this thread! 🙏