Shock finding! Sighted people need wayfinding too

BindiMaps was created to solve a specific problem for a specific group of people. We designed our app from the beginning to assist users who are blind and vision impaired navigate unfamiliar indoor spaces, and that won’t change.

It’s a problem we’ve thrown ourselves into with passion and energy, and we think we are well on the way to addressing it for our users.

In solving that problem, we’ve spent a lot of time hanging around shopping centres, university campuses and large indoor public spaces testing our app, trying out new and better ways to navigate our users to their destinations and working out how we might improve our product.

Indoor locations are getting bigger and more complex and without BindiMaps, our smartphones are no help. (Photo by Anna Dziubinska on Unsplash)

But we’ve noticed that while we’re in these buildings, we often get people coming up to us asking us for directions, and these people clearly have no obvious vision impairment. They can see the signage, stairs, lifts, stairs and other wayfinding apparatus perfectly well.

But still they ask: “What room is my exam in?” “Do you know where the bathroom is?” “Where is meeting room LG4.2.3?”

We are, of course, an excellent source of information because we have BindiMaps in our hand and so we direct these people to their destinations without a thought.

But then we did think, because these questions keep coming, and they are coming more often. It seems like visitors with perfect vision are finding it difficult to find their way in indoor buildings too.

What’s going on?

Well, for one thing, the way users navigate around outside has changed dramatically over the last couple of decades. When GPS became available on smartphones, users suddenly had a street directory, a map and a route-founder in their pockets. There was no longer a need to plan a route, or have a sense of direction, or work out where you are or where you need to go. That’s all taken care of by your smartphone.

And we all became so familiar with the technology that we used it all the time when driving in particular. A study by The Manifest found that 77% of smartphone users regularly use navigation apps, and sometimes it’s even to their detriment. We trust our smartphones so much to guide us, that they can get us into trouble.

There are still street signs and wayfinding information on roads and outdoors generally, but gone are the days when we rely on them as a main source of navigation, or even just for comfort that we are going the right way. We’re more likely to just totally trust our smartphone and its GPS app.

So it’s no wonder that users are paying less attention to traditional wayfinding indoors. They’re expecting the same sort of smartphone navigation there as they’re used to outside.

The only thing is, their GPS doesn’t work inside. They’re not getting the experience they need, so they often get lost.

To make matters more difficult, indoor spaces are forever getting bigger and more complex. Living in Sydney, I can get off a train at Town Hall Station and walk for kilometres underground in the CBD, underneath the Queen Victoria Building, and on to Westfield shopping centres in Pitt Street and elsewhere. All the while, my smartphone is useless as a navigation device, because the route is underground, where GPS doesn’t work.

Whenever we talk about BindiMaps to our clients (including shopping centres, office building managers and managers of big precincts) and our users, they inevitably relate a story about how they found themselves hopelessly lost in a hospital, a big shopping mall or a university campus.

That’s why when we revamped our app’s look and feel in October we paid a bit more attention to our sighted friends.

Most tech products start out being built for the general population, and then add on a bit of accessibility after the fact. We’ve gone the other way, making our app a little more “accessible” for sighted users!

Our map view feature offers a quick and simple way for users with sight to get a “GPS experience” indoors.

Our first and most important users will always be those who are blind or vision impaired, but we’ll be developing these features a bit more.

Because clearly indoor navigation for everyone is a problem that needs solving. But our first and most important users will always be those who are blind or vision impaired.

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