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Kew Gardens adopts Web principles for real-world wayfinding

In a paper Natasha Waterson and Mike Saunders describe how Kew Botanical Gardens in England are adopting mobile technology to help visitors become “delightfully lost.” From the abstract:

In October 2010, Kew Gardens commissioned an in-depth study of visitors’ motivations and information needs around its 300-acre site, with the express aim that it should guide the development of new mobile apps. The work involved over 1,500 visitor-tracking observations, 350 mini-interviews, 200 detailed exit interviews, and 85 fulfilment maps; and gave Kew an incredibly useful insight into its visitors’ wants, needs, and resulting behaviours.

It turns out that most Kew visitors have social, emotional, and spiritual, rather than intellectual, motivations during their time here. They do not come hoping to find out more, and they don’t want or need to know precisely where they are all the time. In fact, they love the sense of unguided exploration and the serendipitous discoveries they make at Kew—they want to become “delightfully lost.”

But as I read the actual paper, I was repeatedly struck by how often one could swap “in the Gardens” for “on the Web.” The motivations, the cognitive space, the tools and techniques often mirrored the Web’s. Indeed, one could argue that our experience of the Web is affecting how we view wayfinding in the real world, and not just because the Kew project integrates the offline and online worlds via mobiles, QRcodes, etc. Rather, the sense of serendipity, the loose connections, the desire to be able to follow one’s interests, the expectation that one will always be able to get more information about something, and the desire to contribute back — this is a public space we’re building together — all feel webby. Indeed, the paper’s overall point is that architects of information spaces ought not pick a single motive for those spaces’ users, and that is one of the fundamental lessons of the newly miscellanized world.

(Hat-tip to Hanan Cohen for the link.)

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