What is digital wayfinding? More on Photo Landmark Navigation. And why isn’t signage enough?

by Megan Fisher, Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Digital Wayfinding in Hospitals

What is digital wayfinding?

Digital wayfinding can look a lot of different ways: any fusion of digital technology paired with the tools we use to provide and acquire directions could be defined as ‘digital wayfinding.’ We use it all of the time: Google Maps provides us driving, walking, biking directions using familiar smartphone technology. It works, because it’s easy to follow in real time, within a lived experience. But, when we take that technology indoors, everything changes, except for our need for clear, easy-to-follow directions. 

Indoor digital wayfinding is a horse of a different color. The “digital” aspects that make outdoor navigation easy to use don’t translate indoors: that type of GPS technology is not precise enough to handle indoor 3D considerations, like multiple floors stacked within a building. Plus, GPS latency often leads to confusion when used at a slow walking pace. And so, we are left with a gap in digital wayfinding offerings - despite the need and desire for digital assistance with finding our way once we’ve ‘reached our destination’. There are options & products on the market that use bluetooth beacon technology, an attempt to mimic the user experience of outdoor GPS directions with a blue-dot and map pathway to follow - but they don’t work. The nature of finding your way indoors exposes gaps in the technology, paired with challenges like the need to interpret maps, compared to indoor surroundings, while navigating the path. It just isn’t helpful in real time. What is? Photos.

Traditional Indoor Mapping vs. Photo Landmark Navigation

Traditional Indoor Mapping     Photo Landmark Navigation

More on Photo Landmark Navigation

Eyedog Photo Landmark Navigation works like a comic: a narrative that shows the user a set of photographs of building hallways and landmarks, in order, creating a walking path to follow. Augmented with navigation instructions in text and universally used wayfinding graphics like arrows or elevator, stairs, or escalator icons, etc, the photos create a clear set of visual directions for the user to swipe or scroll through from their smartphone. Photo Landmark Navigation does not require any indoor positioning system to function - that means there’s no hardware, no beacons, no complicated wifi upgrades. The user doesn’t even need a wifi signal once the pathway has loaded onto their device.  Meaning, this wayfinding system works reliably across different platforms, always in the exact same way. And, to make access even simpler, Eyedog does not require an app for use - everyone can use Eyedog, not just the tiny fraction of people in the community that have or are willing to download the health system's app.

Scientific research acknowledges that using maps in an indoor setting is challenging, and people tend to navigate within indoor spaces using visible landmarks. There is already lots of scientific research telling us that the use of pictures is ideal for wayfinding in the built environment, as it is tied to the natural human cognitive process pedestrians use when finding their way around indoors1. Especially in hospitals, where emotions can be overwhelming and cognitive capacity decreases, making navigation more challenging, wayfinding information should be offered in the easiest way to understand.

Another important aspect is that the modeling capabilities of Photo Landmark Navigation are more detailed. This means that Photo Landmark Navigation can provide so much more relevant wayfinding information than any blue-dot variant could give. In this case, detail leads to simplicity of use: the level of detail offered in Photo Landmark Navigation meets the user’s brain exactly where it naturally likes to be. The power is in the simplicity.

And why isn’t signage enough?

We live in a digital world; there is a digital component to almost everything we encounter, and directions are no different. We have all been lost before - especially inside of a complex building. Could we find our destination without technological assistance? Of course! We’d done that for decades (centuries!) before technology enabled wayfinding from a smartphone. We relied on signage, paper maps, asking for help. But, since the option is available, why not provide for patients and visitors the option to have a guide dog take them, step by step, to their destination. Signage is still immensely important and helpful - it serves as the visual cues to tell you if you’re on the right path. It’s the moments in-between signs when we could use the most help; Eyedog’s Indoor Photo Landmark Navigation is that:  it holds your hand between signs, making sure that finding your way is a breeze.  

Further, there are many aspects of the patient experience over which the health system has limited or no control: limited agency in how enterprise technology vendors' scheduling systems and EMRs contribute to the patient experience, and the cost of care to the patient is driven by set-in-stone insurance contracts.  The health system does, however, still control its facilities and how their patients interact with the physical space. It is here we find the opportunity to show a true culture of caring and empathy - and Eyedog promises to help with that.

Eyedog.US Digital Wayfinding

1For more material related to scientific research on wayfinding related to the cognitive process, see Giannopoulos, Kiefer, and Raubal, The influence of gaze history visualization on map interaction sequences and cognitive maps; Bouwer, Nack, and Ali, Lost in navigation: evaluating a mobile map app for a fair; De Cock et al., Comparing written and photo-based indoor wayfinding instructions through eye fixation measures and user ratings as mental effort assessments.