Way-finding reassurance

Dates: 2005–2009
Staff: Alison Ching-Lan Chang, Steve Fotios

The way-finding project is investigating how spatial attributes of the built environment affect the reassurance element of walking through spaces. This first project is investigating interior spaces – way-finding in unfamiliar buildings, and further work will extend this to examine pedestrian movement in streets at night-time.

Four hypotheses of way-finding are being examined. These hypotheses suggest that at a junction where such decisions are possible, people will tend to choose:

  • the route that is straight ahead,

  • the wider route,

  • to avoid changing vertical level (eg stairs),

  • the brighter route.

Consider the route from reception to end-point in a public building. If these hypotheses are considered within the building design unfamiliar users of the building may be better reassured that they are on the correct route.

Three stages of examination have taken place. The first was observation of people walking though an unfamiliar building without a purposeful destination; in the majority of cases these people followed the way-finding reassurance hypotheses.

The second stage was a review of experimental evidence for the four hypotheses; in one case, route width, further experimental evidence was called for. This is being done using a forced-choice task with a series of digital images in which the widths of the two route options are manipulated (http://experiment.chinglan.com); these data will also examine the conflict between the straight ahead and wider route options.

The third stage of research asks test participants to judge the ease by which they followed a series of carefully chosen routes in an unfamiliar building; these ratings will be considered against a-priori predictions made by consideration of the four way-finding hypotheses.

Poster (PDF, 207KB)


  • Chang CL and Fotios SA, Building design to improve the ease of wayfinding in unfamiliar buildings, Design Principles and Practises, 2009; 3(4); 237-248.

  • Chang CL and Fotios SA, Building design to improve the ease of wayfinding in unfamiliar buildings, Design Principles & Practises conference, Berlin, February 2009.

  • Chang C-L and Fotios S, A study into how buildings may provide reassurance to unfamiliar users when way-finding. Spatial Cognition 2008, 15-19 September 2008, Freiburg, Germany. pp29-32.