Wayfinding is a term that is said to have origins in the days when stars were used to navigate seemingly endless waters and vast empty plains from one cluster of civilization to another. These days, we use the word Wayfinding to describe a discipline of work in which strategies, signage and graphics are designed to guide users as they interact within an environment. We interact with wayfinding every-day and are, in fact, so accustomed to this type of interaction that it’s easy to overlook the importance of properly designed and implemented signage. It’s one of those things that you only notice when the discomfort of feeling lost or inability to locate your destination sets in.
The ongoing trend of housing in Korea seems to favor high-rise apartments over smaller multi-unit residential buildings (2-5 stories). Post-war Korea saw a sudden surge of Koreans flooding into Seoul in search of work. Strained for housing, many land-owners and investors either renovated their homes to create rentable units, or completely rebuilt structures to create as many units as possible on their plot of land. This created a situation in which many buildings exist almost shoulder-to-shoulder, with narrow passages and crooked streets quickly became a normal part of life in Seoul. Although the skyline of Seoul is a seemingly endless sea of high-rises and modern buildings, much of the city’s residents still reside in neighborhoods like these. Some places, more than others, suffer from overcrowding due to their proximity to urban centers of work. Geumho-dong is one of those areas.
Located just a few kilometers South-East of downtown Seoul, and just North of the Han River from Gangnam (Yes…that Gangnam), Geumho-dong was an ideal place for many different types of families to live in a time when private modes of transportation was an unimaginable luxury for most of the population. That being said, some neighborhoods were built for pedestrian traffic only. As the wealth of the general population increased, people began moving away from neighborhoods like these, favoring high-rise apartments. The direct effect of this transition in housing has affected the way people do wayfinding in Korea. Large apartment complexes have been used as landmarks, even going as far as to officially label nearby intersections as ‘such-such Apt. Junction’ in many areas. The older residential areas, built in the early years of post-war Korea however, have been somewhat left behind in the race to develop, leaving the seemingly haphazardly built environment to organically develop their own systems and ways of adjusting to the ever changing society.
It is in places like these, such as in Geumho-dong, that wayfinding becomes a huge challenge. Not so much for its residents, but for those that interact with the residents through service calls, deliveries, first responders, utilities and infrastructure improvements, and even just visiting friends and relatives. Not being able to drive a vehicle into many parts of this neighborhood only exacerbates the problems with wayfinding because that means people will have to navigate unfamiliar winding streets on a hillside on foot without streets for referencing where they are and where they need to go.
During the investigation phase and ideation phase of this project, our designers noticed that within these abyss-like environments, crowded between red brick buildings in narrow passages, people had a tendency to look up in search of anything they could use to identity their location in relation to a nearby building or to triangulate their general position looking even far beyond at nearby skyscrapers. The simple solution was to place building identification signage where people were naturally looking. It was at this point that ‘Skyline Wayfinding’ was born as a design solution for this residential area.
With the huge success of this project, Skyline Wayfinding is a project that continues to serve as an example for other such areas in Seoul and throughout similar places around the world that analogue Wayfinding solutions can be extremely impactful and are absolutely necessary, but can be done through creative problem solving and strategic design processes.
You can learn more about the project at https://segd.org/skyline-wayfinding and http://www.yieum.com/v2/ourworkDetail.html?seq=129