New York University is a major urban campus that gradually expanded into a collection of disparate buildings scattered in the lively and eclectic streetscape of Greenwich Village. While this idiosyncratic setting attracts students, visitors often found the campus difficult to navigate, since NYU facilities were not clearly differentiated from neighboring properties.
As part of a new campus master plan initiative, the university asked CitizenR&D to evaluate how improved wayfinding could create a better “sense of place.” To this end, the firm conducted research to understand what visitors and students experience as they traverse NYU territory.
The firm’s research team assessed the on-the-street experience through intercept interviews, observations, and written surveys. Their findings revealed that new students soon acclimated to the campus while visitors needed far more support to navigate the tangled streetscape. Maps and signs with inconsistent nomenclature and addresses only added to the confusion. Due to the proliferation of cell phones and PDAs, it became clear that GPS-enabled devices and applications were competing with paper maps. The site survey also revealed that signs, branded flags, and campus maps were concentrated around newer buildings, leaving large unmarked areas around Washington Square Park and nearby.
Based on research, CitizenR&D developed recommendations for more user-friendly campus maps in consultation with environmental graphic designers from Pentagram. After taking map prototypes into the field, the team discovered that people had trouble using maps with a fixed orientation. A second redesign confirmed that maps were easier to understand when oriented in the same direction as the viewer.
Maps now appear at all major points on campus, forming the foundation of NYU’s new wayfinding program. CitizenR&D developed university design standards that explain the format and location of brand elements, banners, flags, and signs on all building types. These guidelines make it easy for project managers to order new signs and ensure that NYU’s sense of place is consistently maintained.