Where there's a will... Wayfinding in car parks
I reckon a good number of you reading this will have had one of the following experiences in a multi-story car park…
Not being able to find your car
Getting to the exit without paying because you missed the machine
Ending up walking out the car entry ramp because you can’t find the pedestrian exit
Driving around in circles trying to find your way out
I think I have probably managed all four. Which got me thinking about why. Especially in the context of the ergonomics of wayfinding, and the high quality designs and user centred research that go into some applications.
Check out some great examples at this board, including some car parks.
So what are the challenges and how do those challenges lead to error?
The nature of a car park is that the routes for both cars and pedestrians tend to run between two rows of parking spaces.
This means there is limited space near the routes being used to put signage. As a result, signs often end up outside smaller than normal on on the edge of the field of view.
This means it can be easy to miss signs - can you spot the signs in these pictures
Add to that, lets face it, lots of multi-story car parks are just dark and dirty. This can mean signs are hard to see and hard to read.
Competing task requirements
In a car park there a relatively constrained set of navigation tasks being performed - entering and exiting in a car, paying for parking (usually on foot, but maybe in a car), and exiting and entering the car park by foot.
I have noticed some real differences in how these different routes are marked. In the same car park as the pictures above there was also the ENORMOUS signs for which level you are on. Great help to get back to you car, less for helpful for finding your way out after parking.
Different user requirements
While the task requirements are relatively constrained, car park users will vary greatly. When it comes to wayfinding, a key issue is how familiar the users are with the car park and the local area. This means signage that some users will need, will be completely wasted on others. Again, the designers need to balance these issues to meet the needs of users within the available space.
When I started writing this blog post, I thought that there might be some unique aspects of the car park design which made it hard to find your way around. However, going through the issues it reads like a classic human factors project - the interaction of task, user, and environment. The good news is that this should be fixable - I would love to see your examples of good car park signage.