Malls, universities, large hotels and convention centers, airports, large businesses, and many other large and complex indoor organizations struggle with wayfinding.
Outdoors, tools like GPS and Apple or Google maps have all but eliminated the need to offer wayfinding and directions.
Indoors is another story. GPS doesn’t work inside (or with limited reliability), but two relatively newer technologies, including digital signage wayfinding and wayfinding apps both offer alternatives.
Which is right for you? And which offers more advantages for indoor wayfinding? The answer largely depends on your organization and audience, but we’ll go over the considerations in the following article to help you make a choice.
Indoor Positioning Technology and Indoor Mapping
In most cases, you’ll need indoor positioning and indoor mapping technology for any form of advanced indoor mapping. However, which you need and what you need depends on the complexity and interactivity of your wayfinding solution.
Indoor positioning technologies include motion detectors, heat mapping, cameras, and Bluetooth positioning. They can be used to determine the location of a particular Bluetooth device (such as a smartphone), to perform heat mapping functions such as determining traffic flow (or lack of it) and determining where people stop-start and have to wait.
These technologies are essential for any form of real-time or smart wayfinding, whether you’re delivering via a mobile app or digital signage.
Indoor mapping is a two-part process of a) measuring floorspace and creating an accurate digital representation of it based on total distance and b) updating information to ensure that labels on maps are always accurate.
Indoor mapping is essential to any mapping and is the “basis” of providing indoor wayfinding. Some organizations with relatively static locations (such as a large business with set offices and employees) will rarely have to update maps. In malls and retail spaces where churn rates can be as high as 15-18% (small brands last an average of 2-3 years), you’ll likely have to make updates at least every few months if not sooner. And, in hospitals, rental offices, and convention centers, where updates are made throughout the day, changes to location information must be made automatically.
In more complex systems, these two technologies come together to offer real-time wayfinding with traffic updates, information relating to stores and locations, and information relating to the environment, such as broken escalators or elevators and blocked stairs. So, an ideal system could offer instructions from route A to B based on how crowded each route option is and the estimated time of arrival, accessibility, etc.
Let’s look at how each of these options fits into both mobile and digital signage wayfinding.
Mobile Wayfinding Applications
Mobile wayfinding applications allow you to offer real-time wayfinding to visitors in several ways:
- Bluetooth positioning means you can provide the app with a real-time position of the device in relation to the store. E.g., the visitor can see their real-time location on a map just like with GPS
- Real-time updates mean you can offer push notifications based on location (offers for stores), real-time updates based on traffic (it’s crowded up ahead) etc.
- You can deliver complex and situational information, in real-time, based on the individual, their account, and other live data. E.g., “This store has a sale on X item an accessory to this item you purchased previously”, “Doctor Peters will be 5 minutes late, please wait”,
- The ability to collect and track visitor-related information from their devices
Mobile applications allow you to offer more data, collect more data, and drive more value to visitors, with a caveat. They require more investment from the customer. Someone has to enter your organization, download an application, give it access permissions, and use it. This necessarily means that:
- Only customers visiting for long-periods or who frequently visit will consider the app
- Very frequent visitors will likely eventually remember everything and won’t want the app unless it offers significant other advantages such as coupons, discounts, or valuable information
Some ideal implementations for mobile wayfinding:
- Indoor amusement and theme parks, where individuals spend half a day or more at the park
- Schools where schedules frequently change and individuals want to know where classes are held before they arrive in the building
- Airports and malls where frequent users would like real-time directions around traffic to avoid lines
- Museums and other display institutions (e.g., zoos, collections) wanting to deliver complex exhibit information alongside wayfinding information
Unfortunately, in each of these situations, you’ll likely still have to offer a form of wayfinding that doesn’t require a download and commitment to an app from the visitor.
Digital Signage Wayfinding
Digital signage wayfinding offers most of the advantages of mapping apps, except that it doesn’t offer real-time location tracking for the individual. However, more people are likely to use it, which makes it infinitely more valuable long-term.
Digital signage wayfinding is on display when a visitor enters a space, they can interact with it, and depending on features, can get real-time directions, navigation guidance, and updates.
- Digital signage wayfinding supports the full range of indoor positioning and indoor mapping tools, except for device/user location.
- Visitors have to walk from screen to screen, which may update to provide directional arrows if desired (not practical in very busy locations)
- Visitors can receive real-time updates regarding accessibility, traffic, wait-times, etc.
- Updates will be less personal, but also less invasive, meaning that you can offer less, but the visitor will be less likely to feel that they are being advertised to
Digital signage wayfinding is ideal in most locations with reasonable visibility. Here, you install displays or touchscreen displays offering interactive maps, search, and settings. So, someone can look up a keyword for precise instructions (which they can transfer to their pheon via a QR code or short link), updated instructions based on traffic or time of day, accessibility information, and schedules.
This is very useful in
- Airports where visitors typically go through once every few months at most and simply want to find their gate as quickly as possible
- Hospitals where rooms rotate between doctors, but maps still have to offer real-time directions
- Retail centers and malls where visitors typically don’t want an app unless they are very frequent shoppers
- Events and conventions where it’s necessary to quickly inform a large number of people and to redirect traffic around busy booths
In most cases, digital signage wayfinding is the ideal choice for organizations that want to deliver mapping. While quality touchscreens are essential, you can offer guidance and reduce strain on customer service without asking visitors to download something to their phone first, meaning more people will use it.
Digital signage offers all the advantages of real-time data for live location, feature, service, or room content updates, and only lacks real-time visitor positioning, meaning that it’s good for nearly every type of wayfinding.
Organizations in need of more complex wayfinding or information delivery, apps and web apps can be delivered as a separate service, often using the same software or mapping research used to power digital signage wayfinding.