On my this year’s bicycle tour, I was (of course) musing again about the usability of the signposting. And this time I understood much clearer than last year (#87) what annoys me so much with the typical bicycle routes through beautiful landscapes like “charming Tauber valley” or “Odenwald madonnas bikeway”: they force me into paying attention to the narrow context and destroy the sense of orientation for the wider context.
Leading zigzag through the landscape, often incomprehensibly (supposedly to avoid the dangerous road – or just to get the cars out of their way), they force me at every junction to watch for an unexpected left or right turn, and after several such turns, I lose the orientation about the gross direction, e. g. about whether the path is still parallel to the river in the valley, or branching off, or even leading reverse. Normal roads, in contrast, follow a more natural trace through the geography where the choices at each junction are obvious from the sun’s direction and the valley’s topology.
Signposts are also an interesting example of how wide-context knowledge can be treated as secret knowledge hidden from strangers: in many towns, signposts just don’t disclose that the straight ahead street does still lead to the desired next major town (as it did for many hundred years before the highway bypass was built). Citizens don’t want the through-traffic, and so the signs obfuscate the major orientation and fob the uninitiated off with the narrow-context direction to the next feeder road. This pattern can easily be applied to business habits and pseudo knowledge management.