2020 Main Conference Talk
How people make sense of complex physical spaces, like cities, can tell us a lot about how they might make sense of the complex digital spaces we design. In this talk I’ll share some lessons from Kevin Lynch, an urban planner who wrote “The Image of the City”, that are applicable to our work designing digital products, services, and systems. Lynch developed the idea of “mental maps” and even coined the term “wayfinding” in this book. He argued that a person’s mental map of a city consists of five elements — pathways, edges, nodes, landmarks, and districts — which help them perceive and navigate that city. How might these five “elements” of a mental map, show up in our digital spaces? How can thinking about these five elements when designing digital spaces, help us create spaces that are more understandable, explorable, and usable? I’ll share some examples and ideas about how we can apply Lynch’s ideas, in our work, to create better digital spaces for people. I’ll end with a couple of other ideas from urban design theory, as provocations to spark potentially fruitful analogies, and some shifts to how we think about our work.
Key takeaways from the session:
An understanding of the main points in Kevin Lynch’s The Image of the City – his notion of “imageability”; that people form mental maps of cities as ways of understanding them, in order to navigate and use them; the five elements of people’s mental maps – pathways, edges, nodes, landmarks, and districts, and what they mean in physical cities; what they could mean, and how we might be able to use these constructs, to better design the digital spaces we are creating for people; and if time allows, a couple of other lessons from urban design that may offer food for thought regarding how we design digital spaces and experiences.