This is the first in a series of posts about the projects I’ve been doing as part of my Masters in Information Design at the University of Reading.
Information design is a diverse subject that takes in many disciplines. One of those is wayfinding – the art and psychology of leading people in the right direction, whether they want to wander free and come back again, or get somewhere in the fastest possible way.
My university project was an almost-botanical garden on the University of Reading campus, the Harris Garden.
In my research I learned that the university’s campus had once been the agricultural canvas of a notorious 18th century nobleman – the Marquis of Blandford – who in an attempt to rival Kew gardens, went bankrupt doing up the grounds of his estate – now the university campus. He never finished his project, but to me it seemed like the Harris Garden was carrying on his legacy and ambition.
Improving usability in the Harris Garden
There were several issues we experienced when trying to navigate the Harris Garden in the soggy, freezing cold of winter (lucky us!). The biggest was the paths. This new map recommends several new ones, including the extension of the main path to a full circuit of the garden – in reality it only semi-circles the park – ending at the cherry bowl and the stream.
I also wanted to add paths that would take people through areas of seasonal interest, but wouldn’t be as permanent as the main path.
The second biggest challenge to navigation were a number of ‘off-limit’ areas, meaning we faced a lot of dead ends in our exploration. I recommend low, removable barriers so maintenance crew can still access these areas, but the ordinary visitor is discouraged.
A new welcome monolith sign explains who the garden is for, inviting people in. The map is currently on the right hand side as you walk through the gate, where the view is obstructed and you can’t get a full idea of the extent of the garden. So I moved the large map further into the garden, but still visible from the entrance.
Plinths with information about the Harris Garden and the Marquis of Blandford’s attempts at decadent gardening are scattered at key junctions, as they also act as wayfinding posts to interesting features in the garden.
What do you think of this project? Are there any parks near you that you think could be improved?