Navigation problems, on websites and bikeways

On my this year’s bicycle tour, I learned a lot about the relationship between navigation in the virtual vs. real world.

1. I discovered another reason for the continuous annoyance with bicycle path signposting.

It is not only the differing audience that ranges from people who want to reach a destination, via people who are mainly interested in especially pretty nature, up to people who shun cars and busy roads even if there is a nice safe bike path alongside. Neither is it only the differing perception of how large the angle between the road and a horizontal arrow signpost may be before it can no longer be understood as “straight ahead” but as “turn left” when it is not viewed from a driver’s seat in the middle of the road but from the far right perspective of the cyclist.

No, it is the same differing navigation mentality which also causes the permanent conflict about web site orientation:

  • some people (and in this case, signpost planners) have only their neatly closed (roundtrip route) offer in mind, blinding out everything else what the user might need, and
  • other people prefer the full choice of (direction) options, making it more difficult to find the important transit routes.

In the motorized traffic this is not so much of a problem (even if you want to maintain your own routing oversight rather than being patronized by electronic navigation systems): simple coloring schemes indicate if the route is local (white), medium distance (yellow), or motorway (blue). Such a necessary hierarchy (!) has not yet emerged for bikeways, not even a coloring convention. Many bike signposts tend to be some shade of green but the difference is who sponsored them rather their importance or meaning.

A similar lack of standards and ubiquity is annoying when you need to repair something on the road in the field. Cycling is still a market for play/ sports/ hobbyists who like improvisation with their do-it-yourself repair and their oil can. It is not yet a vehicle/ tool for effectively reaching a destination. So to speak, it’s usability is still on the level of the DOS-prompt, not yet ready for plain using.

2. Dealing for a change with real (geographical) map as opposed to the cognitive/ concept/ mind-maps brings much insight about these latter ones, especially about simple physical zooming vs. logical cartographic generalization, and about the consequences of distortion of fisheye-like or starfield graphs like this hypergraph map (Java).

  • Unlike physically zooming in real paper roadmaps, many computer applications are disrupting the “flow” experience when they force us to zoom stepwise and to refocus after interruption by using the zoom controls.
  • As for distortion, this great article by L. Good, M. Stefik, and B. Bederson (via H. Haller) explains that it is “likely to interfere with users’ perception of spatial relationships.”
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