February 16, 2015

Wayfinding Tools Deliver an Omni-Channel Experience

7 minute read

 

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[Image Source: Drunk Photographer]

Although the principles of wayfinding have remained relatively constant, the tools we use to enhance our natural cognitive map-making have evolved significantly. What began with tracking the movement of the stars and charting the position of the moon has in the 21st century morphed into satellite positioning and ubiquitous wireless infrastructure.

As research has improved and our own familiarity with various applications has grown, there has been a marked shift in the design and utility of a whole generation of wayfinding tools, all intended to mimic the brain’s organic processes and to mirror how we make sense of our surroundings.

The first of these is GPS, which began as a military application and was licenced for civilian use by Ronald Reagan. Since the 1990s a range of developers have created an entire industry around satellite navigation from standard car options to wristwatches. These devices are now taking precedence over printed maps, offering users alternative ways to use terrain by providing additional data such as traffic reports. The effect of the digital assistance is akin to an extra layer of insurance.

What this ultimately means for travellers is the removal of some of the burden of responsibility: the application will help users get where they’re going so their attention can be allocated differently and they can engage with their journey and their surroundings more fully.

However, like many digital applications GPS has certain fundamental flaws. Since it can only be used outdoors, its uses are limited and create the knock-on requirement for tools that allow indoor navigation. The response to this need has been the growth of Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, coupled with the rise of increasingly sophisticated mobile and smart phones. These developments have proven to have the most significant benefits and the broadest range of applications precisely because of their ability to create a customized wayfinding experience under a variety of circumstances.

Building on the architectural principles implemented in the 1950s and 1960s, these advances in wayfinding have responded to our innate need to establish markers and identify patterns by creating immersive spatial relationships between users and areas.

Signs, maps and directional aids remain in force but there is now a digital framework that goes beyond providing basic information. Instead, applications like Wi-Fi and GPS can now be used to help people use space more profoundly and to enjoy richer and more fulfilling experiences. This in turn has allowed the development of the Internet of Things and the rise of multi-device connectivity that can tell users where they are, where they need to be and what they need to do when they get there.

This represents a powerful set of possibilities for a range of industries, from healthcare to retail; creating the critical Omni-channel experience that consumers are increasingly coming to expect.

Innovative retailing

The case for retail is clear: as ecommerce sales are expected to grow to over $2.4 trillion, between 2017 and 2022, bricks and mortar retailers must increasingly find innovative ways of addressing changing shopping habits, merging the appeal of an online experience with a real world one.

There are a range of opportunities, such as helping customers online locate their closest retail store and using mall based Wi-Fi to send relevant specials and offers to their profile as soon as they are in the space. This can be enhanced with real time mapping inside the store or help in finding a convenient parking.

Whatever applications are actually used by correctly harnessing the right variety of wayfinding capabilities, retailers are able to enhance the whole shopping experience in a way that provides a seamless user experience and engenders loyalty.

Improving healthcare

In healthcare, modern wayfinding has the potential to change much of how the industry operates.

As patients are now frequently regarded as customers and practitioners are regarded as service providers, the need for improved customer service and efficiency within the industry is increasingly important.

Facilities need to be easy to navigate and reduce the anxiety of users, while the way in which medical professionals create relationships with patients is changing: facilitated by the growing use of mobile health applications.

It is now no longer uncommon for patient data to be collected through social, mobile, cloud and analytics technologies and applications. However, wayfinding systems enhance this collection by creating a platform for data to be integrated in a way that provides a smooth and worry-free experience for patients. Studies by PricewaterhouseCoopers show that the implementation of these systems often result in minimized frustration and stress, improved workflows, increased staff satisfaction and, most importantly, patients that feel valued.

The ability to create this sense of value and strongly associate it with spaces and services is critical since it relates to some of the most fundamental aspects of wayfinding. When people feel able to confidently and safely navigate a space and are able to develop positive interactions within it, the frequent outcome is loyalty and long-term engagement. A particularly striking example is corporate campuses, where wayfinding technologies make it easy for new hires to integrate into a corporate culture. Whether the platform helps them find the right meeting rooms or shows them where to park or helps them join an employee network, the result is a higher retention rate for their employer.

Conclusion

In many ways wayfinding remains primarily based on the human need to cognitively map and understand our surroundings and to create sets of expectations that can govern our behavior. However, the increasingly sophisticated tools we have developed to respond to this need have resulted in an array of benefits that do far more than enhance our ability to navigate our environment. Through technology, wayfinding has been elevated to something beyond basic neural responses or organizational aids.  Wayfinding is now a set of tools that allow us to change the service paradigms of our most vital industries. It offers corporations and communities new means to create productive and resilient economies and more efficient and effective societies.

 

Topic(s): positioning
Author

Chris Wiegand

With a track record of success in both business growth and business transformation, Chris Wiegand has dedicated his career to discovering and creating business opportunities that address real-world needs. In 2009, Chris co-founded indoor mapping company Jibestream, and led its incredible growth from an idea to a globally recognized leader in the indoor mapping space. Chris joined the Inpixon team in 2019 with Inpixon’s acquisition of Jibestream, where he continues to be a leading voice in the indoor intelligence space, driving success for the company’s indoor intelligence solutions.

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