The Problem of Wayfinding in a Built Environment


  • Laura Jirásková Comenius University Bratislava



Navigating through built environments is a complex cognitive process that involves assimilating spatial information, decision-making and executing navigation strategies [1]. Effective wayfinding is essential for individuals to navigate unfamiliar spaces efficiently and reach their desired destinations. It is about figuring out how to get from one place to another by using one's spatial orientation, which is the ability to understand and mentally represent one's position and orientation in physical space, along with other important spatial cues like landmarks or a map [3].

Aim and Hypothesis

The experiment examines the factors that affect wayfinding behavior of individuals in a faculty building and explains how their behaviors are influenced by signage, landmarks and spatial orientation [2]. Specifically, the study seeks to examine how these factors impact navigation efficiency and user experience, both for familiar and unfamiliar individuals within the environment. Based on previous research suggesting the importance of visual salience landmarks and image-based symbols for unfamiliar individuals [3], it was hypothesized that unfamiliar participants will demonstrate a preference for these types of cues compared to familiar participants. Additionally, it was hypothesized that familiarity with the environment will lead to quicker navigation times and more efficient wayfinding strategies.

Participants and Method

Participants in this pilot study include both familiar and unfamiliar individuals to the Faculty of Natural Sciences at Comenius University in Bratislava. Familiar participants are defined as those who have regular exposure to the environment, such as students or faculty members, while unfamiliar participants had limited or no prior experience with the environment. In total, there were 14 participants recruited for the research, with 6 participants categorized as familiar and 8 participants categorized as unfamiliar with the environment. All participants were aged between 20 to 25 years old, ensuring a relatively homogeneous age range within the sample. The method employed was a think-aloud protocol, where participants were asked to verbalize their thought processes while navigating from the main entry to specific rooms within the faculty building. This methodology allows for the capture of real-time insights into participants' wayfinding strategies, preferences and challenges. Additionally, the navigation process was time-tracked to assess navigation efficiency and to capture any differences in wayfinding strategies between familiar and unfamiliar individuals. The experiment was followed by a questionnaire to gather feedback and better compare the results and patterns of wayfinding of both groups.


Unfamiliar participants preferred visually salient landmarks, aligning with the hypothesis. They found the task more stressful and difficult than the familiar group, who navigated over twice as quickly. Enhancing visual landmarks and symbols may significantly improve wayfinding for unfamiliar users.


[1] Dalton, R. C., Hölscher, C., & Montello, D. R. (2019).Wayfinding as a Social Activity. Frontiers in Psychology,10.

[2] Epstein, R., Patai, E. Z., Julian, J., & Spiers, H. (2017).The cognitive map in humans: Spatial navigation and beyond. Nature Neuroscience,20,1504–1513.

[3] Sameer, A., & Bhushan, B. (2017).Effect of Landmark Type on Route Memory in Unfamiliar Homogenous Environment.Psychological Studies,62(2),152–159.