Why Beautiful But Dumb?

Good information architecture balances a lot of competing elements: design, business needs, marketing needs, stuff the CEO wants, things the tech department wants to try out, and user needs. Without IA ,the web, and the world, tends to start drifting towards what looks cool (the beautiful part) in favor of being smart (hence the dumb part).

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Maps and Landmarks Make All The Difference

So let's begin with the question of why it was so hard to navigate the ship in the first place.  Here's the map of the floor where my stateroom was on:

It is only now, looking at this map and all of the other deck plans, that I am finally able to figure out where my stateroom was.  While we were on the cruise I'd somehow been under the impression that my room was located near the front of the ship, but now that I look at the map I realize that the room was actually located in the light green area towards the back of the ship.  This in part explains why I was so turned around on the boat, because I had no idea where my starting point was.  Which is to say, since I came and went from my stateroom, in my cognitive map I used my stateroom as the point from which I mapped all possible travels around the ship.  But since I couldn't physically locate that starting point anyway, it just sort of floated in space in my brain, which meant that it was hard to figure out where I needed to go.

So why couldn't I figure out where my starting point was?  For starters, I didn't have a map.  I kept scouring the ship searching for maps to orient myself, but the only ones I found were hanging near the elevator banks.  I would consult those maps to figure out where to go once I reached a certain floor, but never on my own floor, since if I'd located an elevator bank on my floor I was already where I needed to be on that floor.  What I really needed was a nice pocket-sized map handed to me upon check in, along with a large laminated map in my stateroom that I could consult before I went off wandering around the ship.

The second problem was that within a given floor everything looked the same.  I was thankful that my stateroom was located near the laundry room so I was able to use that as a landmark in my cognitive map to determine how close I was to my room.  If not for the laundry room, I might have spent hours just circling the floor trying to find my room.  I'm not great at remembering numbers, so I always rely on other external markers to find my way to a hotel room, parking space, or address.  One thing Disney could have done to help me would have been to add subtle landmarks for me to navigate with.  I lucked into the laundry room, but it certainly would have helped immensely if they had treated the room numbers or stateroom doors differently in different parts of the ship - they could have made all starboard room doors green and all port room doors blue, or put Mickey Mouse on one side of the ship and Donald Duck on the other (given that it's Disney).  Not only would that have helped me figure out where I was on my floor, it would have helped me figure out where everything else was in relation to my room, which in turn would have helped me develop my own cognitive map to get myself from Point A to Point B.

The most common route I took on the ship was from my room to my father's stateroom, where the family all gathered before meals.  The route is marked in red, and includes a trip up one flight in an elevator.
In order to get from my room to his room, I would walk all the way down my hall to the first elevator bank, take the elevator up one flight, and then walk outside, circle around through a pool area, go back inside to a second elevator bank area, and make a left.  At the time I felt this route made no sense because it involved my going outside and then inside again, but I didn't have a clear enough sense of where I was to figure out a better route.  In looking at this map, though, it is immediately apparent that a better route would have been to just walk down to the second elevator bank and either walk up one flight or take the elevator up one flight.  This route didn't occur to me in part because the difference between the two elevator banks was unclear.  While I knew that there were two, both looked identical, so it was impossible to remember which elevator bank I was at.  I suppose Disney thought it made sense to have all the elevator banks look the same, but some slight variations (again, the Mickey Elevators and the Donald Duck elevators, for example) would have made navigating much easier.

Next Up: It would have been so simple to help passengers with wayfinding.  So why didn't Disney give out a map?  Why didn't they attempt to help people navigate the ship?  And is it connected to the fact that the website was also impossible to navigate?